By Andrew Lam, New America Media
While on assignment in Vietnam a few years ago, I turned into a smoker, at least temporarily. I resisted at first, but my new acquaintances thought I was standoffish. My interviews didn’t go very well. So, given all the second hand smoke, I gave in.
Smokers in Vietnam
I took cigarette offers and, in fact, bought some for others. Et voilà, the conversation began to flow. But I’d come back to my hotel reeking of tobacco smoke nightly.
Smokers in Vietnam
“So. (Puff. Puff.) Tell me, brother, how capitalism is working out in a communist country?” Puff. Puff. “Yes, uncle, I’m curious about whether a multiparty system will ever arrive in Vietnam? (Puff. Puff.)”
Taking and offering cigarettes is how friends and associates greet each other in Vietnam. It’s like a handshake. If you don’t shake hands, don’t expect the natives to be friendly.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one in four lights up regularly in Vietnam. Vietnam’s Health Education and Communication Center estimated that smoking killed 40,000 people each year and if no measure is taken, nearly 10 percent of the Vietnamese population will have died from smoking-related diseases by 2030.
So forget bird flu, smoking is a bona fide epidemic.
“If you don’t smoke people will think you’re a sissy,” said one young man in Vietnam. Another, an upwardly mobile account executive for a fashion magazine told me, “My job demands the ability to drink and smoke. My business is done in bars and restaurants. You got to smoke.”
So I’d pretend to smoke as well.
Don’t get me wrong. With a degree in biochemistry from UC Berkeley, and having worked in a cancer research laboratory, I’m very aware of the habit’s deleterious effects. I puff but, like former President Clinton, I don’t ever inhale. I tried, when possible, in one polite way or another to tell new friends and acquaintances about the harm caused by smoking. But most just laughed. “We all have to go at some point,” is the general answer.
Statistics show that nicotine addiction is more prevalent in Asia than anywhere else. Asian males consume virtually half of the world’s cigarettes. Vietnamese men, of course, contribute to the trend, with some of the highest smoking prevalence rates for men in the world. To be more precise, more than half of Vietnamese adult men smoke, or about 18 million people, and five percent of Vietnamese adult women also regularly light up. But Vietnam is still behind China where 30 percent of the population smoke, according to the latest Gallup poll, and that’s around 320 million people.
Read the full article by Andrew Lam from New America Media.