Dr Nguyen Thi Tu Van, former lecturer of the HCM City University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said, “Many international studies have shown that if pregnant women, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, are exposed to toxic substances including coumarin via inhalation and ingestion when living in an environment with these substance, then their child in the womb is at risk of birth defects such as minor neurological dysfunction, cerebral retardation and hand, foot, and eye abnormalities."
Many countries in the world have banned using coumarin in food and cigarettes, she said, adding that the Vietnam Ministry of Health also does not allow its use in food.
However, it is found in smuggled cigarettes in the country, Nguyen Dinh Truong, head of the Vietnam Tobacco Economic Technical Institute, said at a workshop on the harm that smuggled cigarette pose for the health of pregnant women and foetus on September 22 held by the Centre for Assistance for Women and Reproductive Health Cares under the Vietnam Women’s Union.
Truong expressed concern about the rapid increase of smuggled cigarettes.
During 2013 and 2016, between 17 and 18 billion cigarettes were smuggled into the country, Truong said.
According to the Vietnam Tobacco Association, the smuggled cigarettes account for more than 20% of the country’s total market, leading to a loss of around VND10 trillion (US$440 million) to the State budget every year.
Ninety percent of smuggled cigarettes were JET and HERO, Truong said, adding that he and his colleagues took samples of these brands for analysing.
The results showed that the coumarin content in these brands were high. The coumarin content in JET cigarettes was 76.3 ppm and 98.7ppm in HERO cigarettes, Truong said, and adding that coumarin existing in illegally imported cigarettes is used to make the cigarettes stronger and more flavorful. By doing so, the manufacturers aim to increase consumption of their products despite harms to local smokers, particularly pregnant women.
According to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, tolerable daily intake is 0.1 miligramme per kilogramme of body weight.
According to him, the increase of smuggled cigarettes is due to their higher profit margins.
He suggested that the Government should take further drastic measures to prevent cigarettes smuggling to ensure health for people, especially pregnant women.
Van said that banning the consumption of smuggled cigarettes would be the best preventive method.
Pregnant women should go to health facilities for ultrasounds to detect birth defects, she advised.
Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, head of the Centre for Assistance for Women and Reproductive Health Cares, said that the Vietnam Women’s Union carried out many programmes to improve awareness of the risks of cigarettes as well as coumarin to the health of pregnant women and foetuses.