National Assembly deputies unanimously agreed with the need for the Law on Tobacco Harm Prevention and Control during on Nov. 16's morning session.

Deputy Nguyen Thu Anh said the tobacco industry had seriously harmed the public's health and the national economy.

She cited a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that estimated there were about 40,000 deaths each year in Vietnam caused by tobacco-related illnesses.

WHO forecast that by 2020 the number of deaths caused by smoking will be higher than that of fatalities caused by HIV/AIDS and traffic accidents in the country.

Anh said smoking increased hunger and poverty, particularly among low-income households.

Anh said thousands of billions of dong were spent each year on cigarettes, while a similar amount was spent on treating smoking-related illnesses.

She also said existing regulations governing the sale of tobacco and smoking in public places were limited.

Anh said smoking in public places continued unchecked in the country due to lax enforcement of the law. She also said cigarettes were cheaper in Vietnam than other countries in the region and that a tobacco tax should be levied on cigarettes to reduce smoking and raise money for the State budget.

Meanwhile, Deputy Tran Van Ban said the Law on Tobacco Harm Prevention and Control was important because it will raise awareness about the harmful effects of smoking.

However, he said the law should not detrimentally affect the livelihoods of the 200,000 tobacco growers and employees working in the industry in Vietnam .

Tobacco cultivation was the mainstay of a number of provinces, the deputy said.

Deputy Ma Thi Thuy asked the NA to issue a supplementary regulation to encourage tobacco growers to farm other crops.

Deputy Truong Thi Thu Trang, however, said an outright smoking ban should not be passed because it will encourage the illegal import of contraband cigarettes.

Most deputies, meanwhile, agreed that a fund designed to deter smoking should be set up and that it should be funded by smokers and tobacco import-export enterprises.

Anh said up to 90 percent of funds spent on cigarette control were paid by international donors, with the rest coming from the State budget.

The establishment of the fund will help reduce smoking and the import of contraband cigarettes, she said.

However, Deputy Nguyen Thai Hoc was among the few dissenting voices. He was opposed to the establishment of the fund, which he said will not be effectively managed.

Hoc also questioned the Government's commitment to reducing tobacco consumption. He said the Government spent just 1 billion VND (47,600 USD) annually on discouraging smoking, well short of the estimated 42 billion VND (2 million USD) needed for the task.

He also said the ban on smoking in public places needed to be better enforced and fines increased.

Deputies also said the Ministry of Health should impose health warnings on cigarette boxes.

NA deputies paid special attention to retirement rights when discussing a draft of the revised Labour Code on Nov. 16 afternoon, proposing different retirement ages for men and women depending on their abilities and health status.

Deputy Nguyen Van Phuc suggested that labourers working in harmful conditions, border and island areas could retire earlier than others, at age 60 for men and 55 for women.

The deputy said the draft will also clearly stipulate that high-quality labourers with good management skills could continue to work beyond the suggested age of retirement.

"It is irrational for talented people to be forced to retire at the age of 60 and give up their seats to young people straight out of school;" said Phuc, adding that "studies have shown employees can contribute more after years of experience."

He said there was a global tendency for countries to raise retirement ages in order to cut down pension funds and ensure living standards for labourers.

However, deputy Nguyen Thanh Hoa said it was extremely difficult for female officials at the grassroots level to receive retirement pensions at the age of 55.

Under the existing law, labourers can retire and enjoy their pensions at the age of 60 for men and 55 for women if they have paid full social insurance fees for a working period of 20 years.

Therefore, retirement age for women was dictated more by completion of payment than by legal guidelines, Hoa said. She asked the NA to revise retirement ages to make them suitable for different types of labourers.

Hoa was joined by Deputy Nguyen Thi Tuyet Thanh in her support for a proposal that will raise maternity leave to six months from the current four months, with a view to enhancing the long-term health of new-borns and mothers.

Hoa worried about the rights of female farmers in the adjusted Labour Code and she urged the NA to pay attention to maternity leave for low-income women to ensure equality.

A draft on the revised Law on Trade Union was also put up for discussion on Nov. 16. The deputies proposed to recognise the position and role of trade unions as representatives for labourers at companies, offices and other entities.

NA deputy Nguyen Van Son said the affirmation will help protect the legitimate rights and interests of labourers while encouraging the sustainable development of their employers.

The deputy told the NA secretariat that about 80 percent of small-and-medium sized enterprises had not yet established trade unions. The existing law says trade unions must be formed at production and trading units with over 20 workers, and many SMEs do not reach that threshold.

The drafts of the revised Labour Code and the revised Law on Trade Union will be open for discussion at the full session of the assembly in the next few days./.