Speech at the launch of Health Bridge’s “Hanoi – a smoke free city” campaign by Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative in Viet Nam

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Date: Friday, May 30, 2008
Event: Launching the Health Bridge’s “Hanoi – a smoke free city” campaign.
Speaker: Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative in Viet Nam

It is my great pleasure to be invited to the launch of this significant project: A Smoke-free Hanoi. In this National No Tobacco Week I have had many opportunities to communicate the fact that smoking kills. It is a simple message and is backed up by some simple - yet tragic – statistics.
Smoking is the SINGLE BIGGEST preventable cause of death. It claims 5.4 million lives each year. Last century tobacco killed 100 million people worldwide. This century 1 BILLION people will die from tobacco related diseases. Around half of those deaths will be in Asia. 

Asia has the most smokers, the highest rate of smoking and the fastest increase of smoking uptake among youth and women. Vietnam is not an exception. The country has as one of highest smoking rates in the world - with 56 percent of men smoking. In Vietnam each year 40,000 people die from smoking.

That’s a staggering 3 times more people dying from smoking than in traffic accidents!

But today I want to share with you a new, and perhaps more important, message. Tobacco smoke kills INNOCENT people. These people are called second hand smokers. Second hand smoke is the putrid discharge from the burning end of a cigarette or the smoke exhaled from the lungs of a smoker. Second hand smokers absorb the same nicotine and hundreds of toxic chemicals just like smokers do. The biggest impact of second hand smoke is on our children. Evidence shows with exposure to second hand smoke children suffer from more bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections and more severe asthma attacks. It can also cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Long-term exposure can cause cancer and heart disease in adults.
Tragically Vietnam is one of the worst offenders for second –hand smoke!

The Global Youth Tobacco Survey has talked to Vietnam’s children about smoking. The survey found that in the week they were interview a staggering 60 percent of 13-15 year olds had been exposed to second hand smoke at home. In another survey for the National Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health, more than 65% of smokers said they smoked in their workplaces sometime or regularly. So what is the World Health Organization’s solution to addressing the problem?

The only solution is to strictly implement a 100% smoke-free environment.This is the cornerstone of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - to which Vietnam is a signatory. The Convention requires government’s to legislate and enforce a 100% smoke free environment in all in-door workplaces, in door public places, and on public transport. Other measures such as segregating smokers and non smokers – installing sophisticated ventilation systems – simply do not work. They do not provide protection against second hand smoke.

A 100% smoke-free environment: it is not an easy task - but it is achievable and the key is enforcing the law and punishing those who do not comply. Many countries and hundreds of cities, states and provinces around the world have become smoke-free. Evidence from these smoke-free cities has shown a reduction in heart attacks and respiratory problems. One Vietnamese institution is already leading the way for others to follow. It is my pleasure to tell you all that the Hanoi School of Public Health has this year won a WHO World No Tobacco Day Award.

The School won the award for its important evidence-based tobacco control research, its contribution in advancing tobacco control policy in the country, and most importantly in demonstrating how a smoke-free university can be achieved with the active participation of faculty and students. Congratulations.

If this beautiful capital can become smoke free – it will be a shining example to other Vietnamese cities and provinces to follow.  It will also build on Hanoi’s reputation as a progressive, modern city.

If this goal can be achieved by 2010 – when Hanoi celebrates 1000 years – it will be a remarkable achievement.

With the commitment from the Hanoi People’s committee and with support of Health Bridge, and other partners, I strongly believe that a smoke-free Hanoi can be realized.

The World Health organization will be happy to work with you side by side to make it a reality