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NO. 3 JANUARY 20, 2011
Newsletter> NO. 3 JANUARY 20, 2011
UPDATED: January 17, 2011 NO. 3 JANUARY 20, 2011
China still has a long way to go in cracking down on tobacco use to meet its WHO obligations

ANTI-SMOKING: Medical workers initiate a smoke-free campaign in a hospital in Xiangfan, Hubei Province, on May 31, 2010, World No Tobacco Day (XINHUA)

Recently China's Health Ministry officially admitted it has a long way to go on tobacco control, amid criticism of the country's failure to fulfill its commitments to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The official recognition came after a new report said China's progress in tobacco control was limited and far from meeting the requirements of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The report, Tobacco Control and China's Future, was published to mark the fifth year anniversary since the WHO FCTC took effect in China and recommended China should begin the implementation of the national strategy of comprehensive tobacco control. It was authored by more than 50 Chinese and foreign health experts and economists.

China ratified the WHO FCTC in 2003, pledging measures to effectively curb tobacco use, including smoke-free legislation, large and clear warnings on the harmful effects of tobacco on cigarette packs, total bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, among others. The treaty took effect in China on January 9, 2006.

The report says China ranks among the lowest few among the 100 plus signatory nations to the FCTC at an average score of 37.3 points for its overall tobacco control situation evaluation.

China was the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer, and tobacco control was a complicated social activity, which involved political, economic and health sectors, according to Ministry of Health spokesman Deng Haihua. He said the tobacco control report "would play a positive role in promoting the country's tobacco control efforts."

Slow progress

During the past five years, China adopted a series of measures to facilitate the fulfillment of the WHO FCTC.

In May 2009, the Ministry of Health pledged to ban smoking in all the country's medical institutions and office areas of health authorities by the end of the year. The following June the ministries of health and education announced bans on smoking in elementary and secondary schools, nurseries and kindergartens, as well as at vocational schools.

The Ministry of Health, according to Deng, has always pushed national-level legislation for tobacco control.

Since 2009, strict regulations on tobacco control have been in force in some cities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province and Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and there were positive developments in the smoke-free Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and the World Expo in Shanghai last year.

Though some positive effects have been achieved, more forcible measures need to be introduced to curb the country's expanding smoking population and the prevalence of smoking, say tobacco control activists.

China has 300 million smokers, 30 percent of the world's total smoking population. China's death toll from tobacco-related illnesses reached 1.2 million each year and the number is expected to reach 3.5 million by 2030 at the current growth rate, says the Tobacco Control and China's Future report.

Given the variety of bans from different levels of governments, however, no exact plan of national legislation has been seen. The tobacco industry, which contributes nearly a 10th of the country's tax revenues, is thought to be a "pillar of the economy" in some provinces and regions. And that's the fundamental reason for the failure of tobacco control work in China, according to the report.

Local lawmakers in Nanchang in Jiangxi Province conceived the country's "toughest" anti-smoking regulation in 2010, but it was finally watered down due to various obstacles.

The original version of the regulation banned smoking in government offices, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment venues—a first for a Chinese city.

The revised draft, however, eases the smoking ban in office buildings to include only "public areas" and delays the implementation of a total ban in ticket offices and waiting lounges from 2011 to 2015. Moreover, the ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and entertainment venues is delayed until 2015 from the original 2013.

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