The Government's draft law on tobacco control regulates that health warnings must occupy 50 percent of the tobacco packaging, but health experts said that implementation of this regulation would need long-term attention.

Tran Thi Trang, a senior expert of the Ministry of Health's Legislation Department and a member of the Vietnam Steering Committee on Smoking and Health, said the new regulation is necessary and reasonable because the large health warnings on the tobacco wrapping have been applied in foreign countries for a long time.

To make the regulation achievable, the most important work is to disseminate the information to tobacco manufacturers as the changes will directly affect their expenses of printing and other equipment, she said.

"It's better to give a warning with a vividly coloured image than with words," she said.

A survey of the committee last year showed that Vietnamese youth began to smoke between the ages of 13 and 15, when they were too young to know of tobacco's harm but wanted to mimic grow-ups.

"Images will strongly affect the youth and raise their awareness," said Trang.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Son Thuy, director of the Thang Long Tobacco Co Ltd, said that if health warnings occupy a great amount of the product packaging, it would create obstacles for the product's trading and affect tobacco sales and funds for taxes.

The slower trading would also affect the more than 20,000 tobacco producing workers across the country, including a great number of retailers and farmers planting tobacco in northern mountainous provinces, including Cao Bang where tobacco helps reduce poverty, he said.

Moreover, in a recent seminar in Hanoi , representatives calculated that it costs about 2 million USD to change the warnings every two years because manufacturers have to change all the equipment and printers, most of which are imported.

Printing health warnings on the tobacco packages should be in conjunction with other measures, such as multimedia and school-wide dissemination, otherwise the warnings would not take effect, said Son.

"In the long term, the State should set up a programme to help farmers planting tobacco and workers in tobacco companies change their jobs as tobacco companies' trading reduction will directly affect their lives," he added.

Nguyen Vu Hung, a resident living in Hanoi 's Dong Da district, said the health warnings on the tobacco packages partially raised his awareness of tobacco's harm.

"When reading that ‘Smoking causes lung cancer', I managed to reduce smoking from two packages per day to one per day," he said.

But the top priority is education in schools and good management from schools and parents to prevent youth from starting smoking.

"Not smoking at the very beginning will be better than trying to educate after young people are already addicted to tobacco," said Hung.

The law is expected to be adopted by the National Assembly at the end of this month.-VNA