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Anti-smoking group calls for urgent tobacco controls

Updated: 2010-12-31 11:35

(China Daily European Weekly)

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Anti-smoking group calls for urgent tobacco controls

A power plant worker at Tangyin, Henan province, after signing her name on a campaign board to promote tobacco control. Volunteers who signed the names on the board vowed to stay away from cigarettes. Chang Zhongzheng / For China Daily

An anti-smoking watchdog has criticized Chinese authorities for "making little progress" on enforcing tobacco controls despite making a commitment to the World Health Organization (WHO) almost a decade ago.

China signed the WHO-initiated Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 but according to Thinktank, a non-government organization, more Chinese are facing tobacco-related health risks than ever before.

And millions of lives are in jeopardy if action is not taken.

"Despite the FCTC commitment, the government has made little progress in implementing these rules, such as introducing a substantial action plan for tobacco control at State level and the long-awaited nationwide legislation on smoking bans in public places," Thinktank director Wang Ke'an said.

Each year in China, more than 1 million people die of smoking-related diseases and the country now has 350 million smokers, including 180 million teenagers, according to the WHO.

Without effective intervention, another 100 million Chinese will die from smoking-related illness by 2050, half of them aged between 30 and 60, experts estimated.

This is the second time the anti-smoking lobby group Thinktank has been critical of the central government after releasing a report, titled Tobacco Control 2010 in China - A Civil Society Perspective.

The report called for sweeping changes including the formation of a new ministerial-level department commissioned to lead the national campaign for tobacco/smoking control, replacing the current Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which also administers China's largest tobacco producer.

China National Tobacco Corporation makes 95 percent of China's tobacco products and is a subsidiary of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, which is under the ministry.

Yang Gonghuan, head of the National Office of Tobacco Control, said that progress in reducing the number of smokers had almost stalled since China ratified the FCTC.

The number of smokers on the mainland decreased by 0.45 percent annually from 2003 to 2010, only half of the rate between 1996 and 2002, she noted, citing a study to be published in January.

However, China's tobacco consumption has been rising in recent decades, from nearly 590 billion cigarettes in 1978 to roughly 2.3 trillion in 2009, statistics on the website of the China National Tobacco Corporation showed.

And cigarette production has increased by 33 percent since 2002.

As the tobacco industry reportedly generated more than 513 billion yuan (59 billion euros) in taxes in 2009, accounting for 7.5 percent of total government revenues, "the bloody truth that lung cancer cases in China have jumped nearly 400 percent since 1980 shouldn't be ignored by decision-makers", said Zhi Xiuyi, head of the Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Center of the Capital Medical University in Beijing.

"Over the long run, the government has to consider the human and financial cost of tobacco and begin to take substantial action against that," said Huang Jianshi, a public health expert in Beijing.

He also encouraged all stakeholders from different fields such as the law, health and education, to stick to the "long and hard" task of tobacco control.

Despite a lack of national legislation, by 2010 more than half of China's 337 large- and medium-sized cities had issued regulations to ban smoking in certain public areas, said the report.

Beijing's Health Bureau this week announced it was working on making all public spaces - including work sites and public transport areas - tobacco free by the end of 2015.


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