Raising cigarette taxes could be the most effective way of reducing the high smoking rate in Vietnam  according to participants at a seminar on smoking prevention held in Binh Duong Province last week.

A recent survey conducted by Nguyen Tuan Lam, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official, and other experts, found that higher incomes and low cigarette taxes had helped keep the smoking rate high, despite education about the hazards of smoking.

Every year, 40,000 people in Vietnam die from diseases related to smoking, and the medical expenses related to lung and heart diseases caused from smoking is estimated at 1.1 trillion VND (61 million USD) each year, according to WHO.

Half of the men in the country smoke, with 65 percent of them between 25 and 45 years old. WHO said if prevention measures were not implemented soon, annual fatalities due to smoking would rise to 70,000 by 2030.

Lam said if the Government imposed a tax of 1,750 VND for each cigarette package, about 30 percent of smokers would quit.

Tax revenues would be deposited in the Government’s health insurance fund.

Lam said that WHO and the World Bank had proposed raising the tax rate from 66 to 80 percent for one package of cigarettes.

Printing warning letters and images that warn smokers about the consequences of smoking are also effective methods to prevent people from smoking, especially young people.

Vietnam was the 47 th of 166 countries that signed WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

WHO said the warning images, which include photos of rotting teeth or cancerous growths, on cigarette packages should cover half of the package.

In August last year, the Prime Minister issued Decree No 1315 to follow the WHO convention guidelines.

Dr Ly Trong Kinh, a high-ranking expert at the Vietnam Steering Committee on Smoking and Health, said the Ministry of Health had told tobacco producers to print the warnings on cigarette boxes no later than April 1 this year.

However, companies have been postponing putting the warning message on packages./.