Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson

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Thank You for Smoking: A Vietnam Smoking Ban No One Follows

Reporting from: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This past Saturday night, the scene was dizzying. The taxi driver here in Ho Chi Minh City didn’t know where the relaxed, chill “Skybar” was, so he dropped me off at another nightclub.

A loud club. A club with pulsing laser lights flashing in every direction. The type of place you can’t hear anybody without shouting in their ear, so you wink or raise your glass to that cute guy or girl across the dance floor. Or send them one of the overpriced, $30 fruit trays that are so pervasive in clubs here.

Amidst the thumping music and stage performers dancing through the mist, there was something vaguely familiar. Something oddly reassuring.

Smoke.

No, the place wasn’t burning down. It was the smell of people smoking cigarettes in another part of the club.

Even in a relatively small venue, smoking in places like this is still widely accepted in Vietnam. In fact, I’ve seen it in several cafes and upscale bars, as well. One would have to strain their brain to think back to a time in the western world when smoking and non-smoking sections were available, but in Asia, smoking is still rather common, particularly among men.

Perhaps their governments have had better things to do than suing tobacco companies into the Stone Age for selling their own product.

The truth is, the Vietnamese government DID technically implement a smoking ban here just two months ago. It’s the second such smoking ban since 2009, only this one was supposed to have more teeth, making it illegal to sell cigarettes to minors and banning smoking in places like offices and hospitals.

(I’ll never forget seeing a doctor in a Chinese hospital throw a cigarette butt on the floor of a hospital cafeteria and stomp it out with his foot.)

But in Vietnam, enforcement of such silly things as smoking bans is rather weak. According to the local press, most street vendors have yet to get packs of cigarettes with the new required warning labels. They said they’ll keep selling the old ones, in defiance of the law.

Yet the word “defiance” was never used. Nobody here much cares about violating some silly smoking ban. They’re not worried about a parade of alphabet soup agencies coming after them. This isn’t the United States.

In fact, in the cafe I’m sitting in right now, at least three people are lighting up. No one is saying a word. The cafe owner has decided to bypass some stupid smoking ban that a lot of his patrons don’t want. They’d rather smoke than be “kept safe” from smokers.

Yet in a lovely example of the free market at work, another cafe I visited last week was strictly non-smoking. It said so right on the door. For non-smokers like myself, that environment was indeed a bit more comfortable.

If it’s that much more comfortable, I’ll seek it out more often and vote with my feet.

While western governments have gutted the business of tobacco companies by suing them for what their users did, then forcing them to pay to put themselves out of business, the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to the scam yet.

That’s exactly why companies like Philip Morris split into two companies – one for their foreign operations, and one for their US operations. Smoking in the developing world is still a booming business.

In my mind, a system where businesses can flout stupid laws that hurt their business is more honest than one where Big Government mandates from the top down.

Even if businesses here in Vietnam have to throw some money at the local cops to keep things quiet, it’s still more honest than the arrogant nanny state that’s pervasive in the west.

If I don’t like people smoking next to me in a cafe or nightclub, I’ll find one that’s smoke-free. If one doesn’t exist, I can either start one or accept the fact that I’m part of a tiny minority that the market doesn’t feel the need to cater to.

You can argue the detrimental effect on my health of sitting in a smoky cafe all you want. I have no right to tell this society or any society how to live and how to conduct their business. The beauty of private property and private enterprise is that he who takes the risk makes the rules.

While the system here in Vietnam is far from perfect, having a smoker or two next to me in a cafe is a freeing feeling. Places like Europe and the United States have mastered the art of tyranny of the majority.

Since most people don’t smoke (again, thank government meddling for that), they figure it’s perfectly cool to tell those who do they’re out of luck. It’s the same reason blacks were forced to drink from separate water fountains and interracial marriage was illegal. The majority decided it was perfectly within their rights to tell other people how to live their lives.

However, if the majority had such a leg to stand on, they wouldn’t need Big Government to come and step on the millions of people who make up the minority. The free market would have responded long before government, with countless smoke-free restaurants and bars.

It didn’t. They got mad. And so they whined to Big Government to fix their problem and punish the law-abiding minority who just wanted to be left alone. Now that minority has nowhere to go.

Kudos to Vietnam businesses for doing as they please. Now remind me, which is the communist country again?

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