Cigarettes kill many in China, but awareness, government action can turn tide

Updated: 2015-01-22 15:04

By William Hennelly(China Daily USA)

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Perhaps one reason why so many Chinese die each year of smoking-related illnesses is because cigarettes are so cheap, and restrictions on smoking are minimal. But some recent moves by authorities could start to change that.

More than 3 million Chinese die prematurely each year from diseases that are largely preventable, according to a report released Monday by the World Health Organization. More than 1 million of those annual deaths are attributed to tobacco-smoking. Chinese and foreign experts said the number of smoking deaths could triple by 2030.

Low-grade cigarettes can be had for 3 yuan (49 cents) a pack in China, the world's largest cigarette market. China has 300 million smokers; the US has an estimated 60 million.

Serbia tops the smokers-per-capita list, and the Japanese and South Koreans also puff a bit more than the Chinese.

"The report is a dramatic wake-up call," said Bernhard Schwartlander, WHO's representative in China. "There is an urgent need for strong action now to stop millions of Chinese men and women from dying in their most productive years from diseases that can be prevented simply by changing common unhealthy lifestyle habits: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet and not enough physical activity.

"China is making some progress - including the recent strong action we have seen on tobacco control in Beijing and nationally," he said. "Once these tobacco-control laws are implemented, we expect to see a big impact on the smoking rate in China."

Beijing city authorities have passed anti-smoking legislation that will ban smoking in all indoor public places, workplaces and on public transportation, effective in June.

On Jan 5, China's National Development and Reform Commission abolished price controls on leaf tobacco, allowing the market to set prices. Tobacco, though, is estimated to make up only 5 to 10 percent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes, so tobacco-price increases may not have a substantial impact on smoking.

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