In a special Q&A series this month, we are highlighting women tobacco control leaders.
In Vietnam, almost 16 million adults currently smoke tobacco. While the vast majority of smokers are men, more women die from tobacco-related disease (9.5%) than smoke (1.1%), which suggests that women suffer disproportionately from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Since 2015, Vital Strategies has been working with the Vietnam Women’s Union to help protect women and children throughout Vietnam from secondhand smoke exposure. We sat down with Madame Tran Thi Huong, Vice Chairwoman of the Vietnam Women’s Union, to learn about the organization’s work to engage women in creating smoke-free spaces.
What is the mission of the Vietnam Women’s Union’s and why has tobacco control become a key aspect of it?
The Vietnam Women’s Union is a socio-political organization that represents women across the country. As of 2017, we have more than 17 million women in our network. We work in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to support the production of health care communication and the implementation of programs to increase people’s knowledge of health harms and their access to health care, so they can live healthy lives.
Vietnam Women’s Union officers and members are collaborators in the health, population, and nutrition sectors and serve as village health workers. Women occupy the role of citizens, mothers and as teachers to their children. When they are fully equipped with information and provided forms of support, they can adjust habits and behaviors that are beneficial for themselves and their families, making an important contribution to the health of their families and community. Because of the heavy burden of tobacco smoking on Vietnamese families, behavioral change communication on tobacco control is one of the Vietnam Women’s Union’s key priority areas.
Why do you think is it important for Women’s Union members to be involved in tobacco control?
The Vietnam Women’s Union has been involved with tobacco control since 2005, which is when we formed the model of creating smoke-free families—where no family members smoke and smoking is not permitted in the home—and participated in developing the national law on tobacco control. In 2013, when the national law was passed we collaborated with the Vietnam Tobacco Control Fund to organize many activities to promote the smoke-free family within our networks.
Strengthening the national tobacco law was a very important development for tobacco control in Vietnam, it: strengthened smoke-free laws, introduced graphic warnings on tobacco packs, banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sales and incorporated a tax on the wholesale price of tobacco packs to fund the Vietnam Tobacco Control Fund, which provides sustainable funding for tobacco control in Vietnam, including national mass media campaigns.
With the Vietnam Tobacco Control Fund, we developed and shared information about the importance of having smoke-free families with more than 35,000 women’s clubs. This included disseminating tobacco control messages focusing mainly on the risks of secondhand smoke—particularly in the home—and disseminating information about the tobacco control law, to make sure that the law would be practical, realistic and fully enforced and respected by people.
What do you see as some key achievements of the Women’s Union in tobacco control for Vietnam so far?
In 2016, the Vietnam Women’s Union developed the “Women create smoke-free homes” national initiative to urge women across Vietnam to encourage smokers to respect a voluntary smoking ban in the home and to support smoke-free public places, in accordance with Vietnam’s national smoke-free law.
With technical support and resources from Vital Strategies, the initiative included a campaign that featured the personal story of Ms. Nguyen Thi Huong, a 41-year-old non-smoking teacher who developed lung cancer as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Packed into the 30-second television spot were key messages that the Women’s Union and Vital Strategies wanted to bring to the attention of the community: “Protect yourself and your loved ones from secondhand smoke exposure” and for the attention of smokers: “Stop smoking to protect your loved ones.” Ms. Huong’s story was so successful in resonating with people that in 2020, we partnered with Vital Strategies to tell the personal story of another woman whose health and life were gravely affected by tobacco, Ms. Tinh, a non-smoker who developed lung cancer after experiencing secondhand smoke exposure from cigarette and pipe smoking. Ms. Tinh’s husband and father had both died from tobacco-related illness.
We have also enlisted the very popular Miss Universe, H’Hen Niê, to participate in promoting Ms. Tinh’s story, and supporting her call for women to raise a strong collective voice to the community: “it’s time to stop smoking now to protect yourself and your beloved ones!” The campaign is scheduled to commence next month.
Vital Strategies also supported the Women’s Union to raise and represent the voices of women and children on a campaign to increase the tax on tobacco to reduce smoking. They supported us in building our role and reputation on policy advocacy among civil society organizations and development organizations working to help ensure the health of the community—namely women and children.
Through our Women’s Union online platform, all the materials including leaflets, question-and-answer books on tobacco harms, information on the tobacco tax and the law on tobacco control, and communication products on tobacco control were successfully disseminated to all cities and provinces in Vietnam to distribute to grassroots members. At the same time, documents, media clips and short television spots were posted to the Women’s Union online platforms through e-gate, fan page, a zalo group of 63 provinces and cities and through websites of individual provinces. This reached millions of women across the country to mobilize support for tobacco control.
What’s on the horizon for tobacco control strategies for the Vietnam Women’s Union in 2021 and beyond?
In 2021 and beyond, the Vietnam Women’s Union hopes to continue to collaborate with Vital Strategies to develop and promote behavior change communication not only on tobacco control but also on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, such as lung disease, cancers and diabetes. We would like to extend our efforts on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases to all 63 provinces and cities in Vietnam.
We hope to organize training sessions so that women officials and communicators in provinces and cities can update information and knowledge to continue to help promote effective communication not only on tobacco control but also on health care and disease prevention in many forms.
For more information about Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control, please visit: https://www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/tobacco-control
Follow us on Twitter: @VitalStrat
About Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control:
Vital Strategies works globally and in more than 40 countries to support the adoption of proven policies to reduce tobacco use. Our global team of experts use policy, advocacy and strategic communication to help governments adopt lifesaving, public health “best buys” like comprehensive smoke-free laws and high tobacco taxes.
Our evidence-based public education campaigns have been seen by more than 2 billion people around the world. We partner with American Cancer Society to produce The Tobacco Atlas, (sixth ed.) the most comprehensive report on the evolving global tobacco epidemic, and support production of WHO’s MPOWER reports.
Vital Strategies is a main partner in the $1 billion Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog, Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP).