Vietnam loses tens of trillions of dong (VND10 trillion = $432 million) a year due to cigarette smuggling, a long-standing problem.
Nguyen Triet, General Secretary of Vietnam Tobacco Association, estimates that just one percent of smuggled cigarettes are caught.
The value of smuggled cigarettes accounts for up to 25 percent of the market each year, he said.
In the last five years, an average of 700 million packs of cigarettes a year have passed through Vietnam’s borders with China, Laos and Cambodia.
Long An Province in the Mekong Delta remains a “hot” location for cigarette smuggling, officials say. Almost 900 cases have been discovered in the first 10 months this year and 1.57 million cigarette packs confiscated, according to the National Steering Committee on Combating Smuggling, Commercial Fraud and Counterfeit Goods.
Pham Duc Chinh, Head of Long An Province’s Market Surveillance Department, said that because the province’s border with Cambodia was very porous, controlling smuggling is difficult.
Nguyen Minh Trung, head of southern Dong Thap Province’s Market Surveillance Department, said that even disposing of smuggled cigarettes seized is a difficulty, as the law requires them to be evaluated for quality to decide if they should be auctioned or destroyed.
But there is no official agency in charge of doing the evaluation, he added.
Officials have proposed that among other things, the fines for smuggling cigarettes are increased. The current levels are too low to discourage criminals, Trung said.
Vietnam has one of the highest numbers of smokers in the world, with as many as 15.6 million smokers spending VND31 trillion ($1.36 billion) on cigarettes every year.
The country is among the top 15 in the world with the lowest tobacco prices, according to the World Health Organization.