Mark No Tobacco Day with a ban that bites
Updated: 2016-05-31 07:55
Smoking kills. And the devastation it causes is especially alarming in China.
Every year more than 1.4 million people die from lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses in the country－about 3,800 people every day－and the figure is expected to reach 3 million by 2050 if no effective measures are taken.
The toll from smoking is heavier than that from HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and accidents combined, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.
So a nationwide anti-smoking effort is a war we have to wage and cannot afford to lose.
But, at the moment, the prospects of winning are not very bright, and the challenges are daunting.
There are currently 320 million regular smokers in China, making it the world's biggest tobacco consumer. And that figure is growing, by 15 million over the past five years.
A nationwide smoking control law has also yet to be put into place, more than a decade after the Chinese government signed the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
As a result, except in Beijing and a few major cities where smoking bans have been imposed by the local authorities, smoking is still rampant in public places, and more than 700 million non-smokers in the country are exposed to second-hand smoke, which can cause cancer.
This stark reality requires a commensurate sense of urgency from the top leadership, which still has many weapons at its disposal to help win the war.
For example, raising the price of tobacco has proved one of the most powerful tools to reduce smoking. China's tobacco tax is only half that in European countries, and among the lowest in the G20.
Also plain packaging is considered a comprehensive approach to tobacco control. It restricts promotional packaging and instead carries graphic warnings. China has yet to make any move in that direction.
The inaction stems from many social factors such as the culture of gift giving, in addition to the monopolistic status of the country's all-powerful tobacco industry. In 2014, the sector made a pre-tax profit of more than 1 trillion yuan ($152 billion), 1.5 percent of the country's GDP.
But the authorities must realize such profits are counterproductive, for the medical and social costs inflicted far outweigh the temporary monetary gains the tobacco sector now brings.
For China to emerge as a more responsible and health-conscious society, the authorities should waste no time in implementing more forceful measures to combat smoking.
That is the best way to mark World No Tobacco Day.