By guest writer: Nga Vu – Second year candidate for Master of Science in Energy System Engineering program at University of Michigan.
The title of this article means “Please have a cigarette!” but it is directing to the male group of the Vietnamese society. Read on to find out why it is not “Moi Chi Mot Dieu!”, which directs to the female counterpart.
Smoking plays a large role in the social culture of the Vietnamese community. Vietnam has one of the highest male smoking rates in the world: more than half of adult men smoke. It is common to see Vietnamese men smoke cigarettes during important occasions such as weddings and funerals. The Vietnamese men also believe that guests come to their home should be invited to smoke and when meeting friends, one should offer cigarettes. In many past years, tobacco has become an integral part of government meetings and commercial negotiations in Vietnam. Cigarette packs or cartons are often offered as ‘gifts’ to higher authorities in exchange for favors. According to a popular way of thinking about gaining approval from a government official, ‘If you offer a cheap, domestic brand, you will be greeted with silence; if you offer an expensive brand, you will get what you want’.
One of the most common reasons men explain for smoking habit is because it displays masculinity. By contrast, female smokers are generally considered to be unladylike. It triggers many teenage boys to start smoking whether they like it or not at their first try. Ten percents of Vietnamese school boys – aged just between 13 to 15 smoke [WHO]. Who do not smoke are often laughed as “chicken” and should be joining the female crowds playing with barbie dolls. Smoking to gain popularity and social status has been the main target for tobacco companies to pour millions of dollars into their advertising campaign. This way of thinking certainly leads the majority of students into smoking or reluctant to quit smoking. Better health knowledge alone, though crucial, cannot stem the tobacco epidemic, especially because smoking ordinarily starts in adolescence, when long-term risk may be of less concern than peer influences.
Although Vietnam has regulation to ban selling cigarettes for people under 18, the results of this survey show that most underage students were not refused when purchasing cigarettes. One of the main reasons for this non-compliance is that cigarettes are sold almost every where in the country through street vendors and small shops where enforcement of the regulation is not very practical. The youngsters can also have access to cigarettes through other sources such as free cigarettes from wedding and funeral events, from their father’s wide-open draws, and from their own peers who are just a bit older to purchase cigarettes legally.
Smoking in Vietnam, as elsewhere in Asia, is strongly sex-linked. According to WHO, there are about half of males but just 3.4% of females who use tobacco regularly. Still being influenced by the traditional values, the Vietnamese do not easily accept the image of a smoking woman. Based on the Vietnamese traditional thinking, smoking is associated with loose morals. Women are more often to receive criticism on almost anything when compared to their male counterpart because Vietnamese women are “ought to live up to their expected highly moral life”. Vietnam is now undergoing rapid social and economic change. The country publicly aims to ‘catch up’ with other Asian economies. ‘Catching up’ will entail far-reaching change to expectations that women be refined and subservient to males, especially in the family settings. Increased female smoking has occurred in other countries when traditional roles start to change. Will this alter the female smoking statistics for Vietnam in an upward trend? We just got to sit and watch.
Beginning Jan 01, 2010, another new law took place to ban smoking in many public places such as schools, factories, libraries, offices, hospitals, and on public transportation. Up until now, no one has been fined. A guideline circular on how to punish people who smoke in public places has not yet been issued though the Government decision was already in place. The problem is compounded by the fact that there is insufficient awareness about the smoking ban. Therefore, “Moi Anh Mot Dieu Nua!”.