Program to champion rights of nonsmokers

Updated: 2012-02-23 07:32

By Wang Qingyun (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The Red Cross Society of China launched a three-year Create a Smoke-Free Environment Program on Wednesday.

The program, seed-funded with $9 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to urge the Chinese government to more energetically support tobacco-control and observe the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and change smokers' habits by educating nonsmokers on their health rights.

As one of the main operators of the program, the Red Cross Society of China has set up an office with the foundation to coordinate the program, and it will also set up an expert panel to review specific plans, which will come from various parties, including government, social groups and companies, said Zhao Baige, executive vice-president of the society.

Zhao said the money will be allocated toward research and promotion of tobacco-control models.

"We need to know more about tobacco control in China, what kind of policies are needed, and what are the bottlenecks in its promotion," Zhao said.

"We have run into great hurdles in promotion ... We also need to work out different tobacco-control models for cities and rural areas. For example, the model for Yunnan may be different from Beijing."

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey published in 2010 by the WHO, 301 million Chinese adults smoke tobacco, and 52.7 percent of adult daily smokers aged 20 to 34 started smoking daily before the age of 20. What's more, seven in 10 nonsmoking adults were exposed to secondhand smoke in a typical week.

The 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) published in 2011 included the goal of the "comprehensive implementation of a tobacco ban in public areas".

Hu Angang, professor of public policy at Tsinghua University, urged government to take more effective measures.

"About 1.2 million people are killed by diseases caused by tobacco use. It is worth considering what government should do to reduce the population of smokers and number of people killed by tobacco use," Hu said.

"China has made some progress in tobacco control, but the progress has been very slow," said Huang Jiefu, deputy minister of health and president of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control. "Society should care about smokers without discrimination. We should create conditions to help them quit ... And nonsmokers also have their health rights, so the country should promote a smoke-free environment in public areas, and come up with nationwide legislation on tobacco control as soon as possible."

Ray Yip, chief representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in China, said that the foundation's effort to reduce tobacco use is global, but the main efforts lie in Africa and China.

"A smoke-free environment is not created only by legislation and rules, but also by people who obey them, and the strength to obey them comes from nonsmokers. It is important to let nonsmokers know how secondhand smoke affects them," he said.