Laos Struggles with Lingering Smoking Habits Despite Progress

Smoking Trends in Laos’ Slowing Down But Still Prevalent
Close up of a person smoking a cigarette. (Photo: Freepik)

Despite a downward slope in smoking trends since 2015, smoking remains prevalent among individuals aged 15 and above in Laos. To address this concern, both the WHO and the Lao government are implementing measures to tackle the problem.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking causes up to 6,800 deaths annually in Laos and costs the government up to KIP 3.6 trillion (USD 27 million). Issues that are preventable through different measures say experts from the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Program, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance as well as tobacco control experts from Action on Smoking and Health Foundation Thailand and Ministry of Public Health Thailand.

Research shows that in 2015, smoking trends among people aged 15 and more in Laos was 35.80%, a 4.7% decline from 2010. The trend continued to go down, but only to 31.80% in 2020.

In 2023 the smoking rate in Laos saw a steady downfall to 24.5%, projected to be the lowest rate recorded. The WHO also projects the smoking prevalence percentage in both sexes to further drop to 23.3% in 2025, with only 4% of Lao Females smoking.

In their ongoing effort to tackle this issue, the Lao government has worked on a revision of the National Tobacco Control Law in alignment with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) since December 2022. 

The revision aims to address tobacco taxes, regulation of the tobacco industry, newer types of tobacco and nicotine products including e-cigarettes, health communications, inter-sectoral collaboration, and product packaging and labeling. 

“While Laos has taken the noteworthy step of becoming one of more than 30 countries globally to ban the sale of e-cigarettes, they are marketed online on social media and are available, including to children and youth who see these as trendy products. Unfortunately, these products are very deceptive – they harm health, and risk creating a whole new generation of nicotine addicts”, “The numbers are clear,” says WHO representative Dr. Ying-Ru Lo.

The Ministry of Health in Laos has also called for action against the tobacco industry, saying that the agreement between the government and Lao Tobacco, which stretches over 25 years and will be automatically renewed, is unfairly beneficial toward the tobacco company.

The agreement sets the company’s tax rate at a low figure of 15% if production costs are less than LAK 1,500 per pack and 30% if they are equal to or greater than LAK 1,500 for each product pack.

 “Smoking kills almost ten times as many people as road accidents in Laos every year; almost 7,000 mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children die as a result of tobacco’s health impacts,” Dr. Lo said.

She continued, “Laos has made significant progress and can secure tremendous health and economic benefits with stronger tobacco control – and we [the experts] are thrilled to continue our support for the Ministry of Health in its fight against tobacco.”