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UPDATED: June 22, 2015 NO. 5 JANUARY 30, 2014
Taking Down Tobacco
More efforts are needed to reduce smoking in public areas
By Yin Pumin

In 2003, China signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and it became effective in the country in January 2006. The FCTC requires a reduction in tobacco supply and consumption, as well as a total smoking ban in workplaces, public venues and public transportation by January 2011. But this hasn't happened in China.

To show its determination to press ahead with the issue, in its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), the Chinese Government promised that smoking in public places will be banned outright by 2015.

However, a report released by ThinkTank in early last December found that the production turnover of cigarettes on the Chinese mainland had increased by nearly 50 percent over the past decade. In 2012 alone, 2.58 trillion cigarettes were produced in China.

Meanwhile, the consumption of tobacco in China rose 41.8 percent in the same period, while global consumption declined around 10 percent.

"China has been doing a poor job at curbing smoking and protecting its people from the 'silent killer,'" the ThinkTank report said.

China's inability to protect its people from the smoking epidemic has tarnished the country's image abroad, said Xu Guihua, Deputy Director of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.

A long-term campaign

According to a WHO tobacco control assessment report, China ranks in the bottom 10 percent of all FCTC signatory countries and regions in terms of implementing smoking bans at public places and workplaces.

The country did even worse in its efforts to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, Xu said.

An international survey of six countries found that 86 percent of Chinese children polled could recognize at least one cigarette brand, higher than in Russia, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Brazil.

Tobacco companies have moved online to get around bans on tobacco product advertising in conventional media such as newspapers and broadcasting, said Wu Yiqun, Deputy Director of the ThinkTank.

Wu cited the website Yanyue.cn, where users can participate in a jigsaw puzzle contest. When the picture is completed, the logo of a tobacco brand appears, she said, adding that winners receive free packs of cigarettes.

According to Yang Jie, Deputy Director of the Tobacco Control Office of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, such practices are essentially tobacco advertising.

"Regulation over online tobacco advertising remains undefined," Yang said. He urged lawmakers to recognize the new trends online and close loopholes in current laws and regulations.

Currently, more than 10 Chinese cities have smoking control regulations, all of which ban smoking in public buildings, according to Wang Qingbin, an associate professor at Beijing-based China University of Political Science and Law. "But implementation of the rules is unsatisfactory, mostly because there is a lack of either enforcement or awareness of them," he commented.

Another complaint of Wang is that municipal-level rules mainly target businesses such as restaurants, Internet bars, hotels and movie theaters, but do not focus on individual smokers.

In Tianshui, northwest China's Gansu Province, when a business applies for a basic hygiene certificate, it is required to sign a guarantee that it will ban smoking indoors. It must also submit a plan to maintain hygiene, including how they will work to control tobacco use, according to Liu Jiong, a local health official.

"Health inspectors have fined some business owners when they failed to maintain the ban, but there are no specifications on how to punish smokers," Liu said.

Encouragingly, the situation is to hopefully be reversed in the near future.

China's health authorities are working on a law that will ban smoking in all indoor public venues while clarifying the punishments for doing so, said Mao with the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

At a press conference on January 8, 2014, Mao revealed that work on a draft of the law began last year and that the commission is working hard to get national lawmakers to issue laws on smoking control with stronger powers than the current regulations have.

According to Mao, regulations banning smoking in public venues are effective in many places but they are vague on the punishments, so a new law that clarifies them is necessary.

"Compared with the damage to health brought on by smoking, the economic benefits brought on by tobacco are trivial," Mao said. "So we are promoting legislation on smoking control to tackle this."

Yang with the Peking Union Medical College said that effective smoking control efforts require a broader system involving public supervision, surveillance, assessments, training of law enforcers and awareness campaigns. She recommended the establishment of public hotlines to report offenses, and said that the "response and action of law enforcement to hotline reports should be regularly publicized to help raise public awareness."

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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