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Vietnamese smokers spend $2bn on cigarettes yearly: ministry



Vietnam now ranks 15th in smoking prevalence in the world and Vietnamese smokers are estimated to spend a total of nearly US$2 billion on cigarettes each year, according to the Ministry of Information and Communications.

Deputy director of the ministry’s Department of Legal Affairs Ho Hong Hai released the figures at a seminar held in Hanoi on Wednesday to discuss the current smoking situation in Vietnam as well as challenges and solutions to the prevention of the harmful effects of tobacco.

The rate of tobacco use in Vietnam remains high, especially among men, despite a series of measures that have been implemented over the past several years to lower smoking prevalence in the country, including an increase in national tobacco tax; mandatory health warnings on cigarette packs; the establishment of smoking-free areas; and a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. 

With about 15.6 million smokers, Vietnam now ranks 15th in the world in smoking prevalence. The total expenditure on cigarettes by Vietnamese amounts to VND49 trillion ($1.98 billion) per year, Hai said.

Around 40,000 Vietnamese people die each year from tobacco-related diseases, and this number is expected to rise to 70,000 by 2030 if Vietnam fails to effectively prevent tobacco use, warned the national tobacco harm prevention and control program.

This annual death toll is nearly four times the number of fatalities from road traffic accidents each year.

The number of Vietnamese people dying from tobacco use last year exceeded the total number of deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, traffic accidents, and suicide.

Reports at the seminar noted that access to tobacco products is easy as cigarettes are sold everywhere, and the special income tax rate for tobacco in Vietnam is the lowest in the ASEAN region.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking is one of the main causes of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical components, including 69 carcinogens, and it is the cause of 25 diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory and reproductive diseases, among others, said Nguyen Thi Thu Huong, an expert from the Ministry of Health’s Tobacco Harm Prevention Fund. 

Nicotine in cigarette smoke is a substance classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as having pharmacologically addictive properties similar to heroin and cocaine, Huong said.

Smoking prevalence among men in Vietnam has trended downward recently while the opposite is true for women, the official said.

In addition, the rate of new smokers among young people has increased sharply over the past five years, from 0.2 percent in 2015 to 3.6 percent in 2020, or an 18-fold increase, with the increase rates of men and women being 14 and 10 times, respectively. 

Dr. Angela Pratt, WHO representative in Vietnam, commented that cigarette prices in the Southeast Asian nation are incredibly cheap.

Current prices of cigarettes in Vietnam fail to serve as a barrier to young people in accessing tobacco, so hiking the tobacco tax will be the fastest and most cost-effective way to curb smoking prevalence, Pratt said.

Besides traditional cigarettes, new generation tobacco products (NGTPs), including electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and heated tobacco products (HTPs) are directly affecting young people, said Tran Thi Trang, deputy director of the health ministry’s Department of Legal Affairs.

The ministry has banned all of these new items, which are typically brought into Vietnam through smuggling and as hand-carried goods, among other ways, Trang said.

Such products have been widely advertised on the Internet and social networks to make them easy to be accessed by consumers, she warned. 

Meanwhile, the Law on Prevention of Tobacco Harms has yet to adopt any regulations governing NGTPs, the official added.

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Over 41,500 workers lose jobs in Vietnam in latter half of 2022



Some 1,235 enterprises in Vietnam are facing difficulties in production, affecting 472,000 workers, and more than 41,500 people have had their labor contracts terminated since the middle of the year, according to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor.

These figures are drawn from a statistic conducted by the confederation in 44 provinces and cities across the country during the half-year period.

Of the 41,558 people who lost their jobs, nearly 30,300 were female workers aged 35 or older, and more than 9,400 were pregnant and raising children under one year old.

The job cuts occurred mainly in textile, garment, footwear, and wood processing enterprises as they lacked foreign orders, faced increasing input costs and declining consumer demand from major markets such as the U.S., the EU, and Japan, according to the confederation.

The union forecasts that those difficulties will last until the middle of 2023, leading to more layoffs and reductions in working hours, and seriously affecting workers’ income.

The agency also does not rule out scenarios where business owners run away, owe salaries, social insurance and other benefits, or purge workers over 35 years old from their companies to recruit younger people at lower pay.

By the end of November, there were 144 collective work stoppages in industrial parks, export processing zones, and economic zones, an increase of 53 times over the same period in 2021. 

The main reason is that wages and benefits were cut while workers had lost income during the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phan Van Anh, vice chairman of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, asked trade unions to proactively urge enterprises to pay unpaid wages and reward employees at the end of the year.

Trade unions must also negotiate with employers to arrange working time to minimize job loss, especially for female workers aged 35 years old and in difficult situations.

On October 26, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor announced a plan to give support totaling VND500 billion (US$20.2 million) to workers in celebration of the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, which will begin in the latter half of January.

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Boy dies after school lunch in south-central Vietnam



Police in Binh Dinh Province, south-central Vietnam are investigating a case where a five-year-old boy in Hoai An District died after having lunch at his kindergarten on Tuesday.

Teachers at Tang Bat Ho Kindergarten prepared T.H.A. and his classmates for a nap after lunch at around 11:25 am on the day, but later found that the five-year-old was still awake and showed unusual signs indicating poor health, Mai Van Len, a local official said on Tuesday evening.

The teachers immediately took A. to Hoai An District Medical Center for emergency treatment and informed his family of the incident. 

However, A. was determined to have passed away before reaching the medical center at around 12:00 pm the same day.

Authorities are investigating the cause of his death.

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Indian senior executive gets 15 years for embezzling $78,000 in Vietnam



A Vietnamese court has sentenced an Indian man to 15 years in prison for embezzling nearly US$78,000 from a Vietnam-based subsidiary whose parent company is an Indian firm where the man was deputy general director.

Defendant Soumyodiptha Saha, 35, an Indian citizen, received the jail term at his first-instance trial held at the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City on Monday.

The man was found to have appropriated the aforementioned amount from Ho Chi Minh City-based B9 Beverages Co., Ltd., whose parent company is B9 Beverages Pvt. Ltd. headquartered in India, according to the indictment.

In 2019, B9 Beverages Pvt. Ltd. recruited Saha and appointed him deputy general director in charge of finance affairs, whose duties were to control financial transactions related to the  company’s subsidiaries in other countries, including B9 Beverages Co., Ltd. in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese subsidiary opened an account at Standard Chartered Bank (Vietnam) Limited in Ho Chi Minh City, for its payment transactions, in 2009.

As a senior executive in charge of accounting affairs of this subsidiary, Saha was authorized to approve payments of under $10,000 at his discretion using this account.   

Taking advantage of this privilege, from August 30 to October 28, 2019, Saha transferred a total amount of more than VND1.9 billion ($77,930) worth of 27 transactions from the account to an account held by a Vietnamese woman, Nguyen Song An, at Techcombank in Vietnam.

An left Vietnam in March 2020 via Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City after withdrawing the entire amount in her account. 

When Saha’s act of embezzlement was discovered, the man told investigators that An is his wife and they married in India in 2019.

At the trial, Saha declared that he and his wife were quarreling in January 2020 when he went to Vietnam and revealed to An the origin of the money he had transferred to her.

The man added that they have since lived in separation, without his knowing about her whereabouts. 

Saha told the court that he did not intend to appropriate his company’s money but he only “borrowed” it to help his wife to repay her debts, Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper cited the foreigner as saying.

After Saha was prosecuted, Saha’s mother in India repaid all the appropriated money to the aggrieved party, B9 Vietnam Company, which confirmed the repayment and later filed a petition with the court to waive its claim against the Indian man. 

Judging that the foreigner’s act has seriously violated the rights and interests of B9 Beverages Co., Ltd. that is under the protection of the laws of Vietnam, the trial panel finally decided to impose the 15-year jail term.

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