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UPDATED: January 21, 2013 NO. 4 JANUARY 24, 2013
Graphic Warnings on Cigarettes?


A survey was recently done in Beijing among more than 6,500 people, asking if health warning images such as black lungs and rotten teeth should be included in tobacco packaging to highlight the danger of smoking. The result shows that 85 percent of the interviewees support the idea. The survey draws attention of the public and arouses discussions. The following are excerpts of opinions:

Bi Xiaozhe (www.eastday.com): According to the survey result, extensive public support for warning signs related to smoking does exist. In July 2011, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology promised to bring changes to current cigarette packaging. However, adjustments are still to be made, probably due to a conflict of interests.

Horrible pictures featuring black lungs and rotten teeth can do much to stifle the public urge to smoke. However, if large numbers stop smoking, tobacco sales and taxes will sharply decline, the industry being among the top tax contributors in China.

Take 2005 statistics as an example, direct and indirect loss resulting from smoking-related diseases came to between 227.5 billion yuan ($36.1 billion) and 287.1 billion yuan ($45.6 billion), while tobacco-related tax revenues were about 200 billion yuan ($31.7 billion). Tobacco-related disease costs basically swallowed up revenues.

In the third session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in the South African city of Durban, China was awarded the Dirty Ashtray Award for preferring pretty tobacco packaging to public health. While harvesting huge tax revenues, China is losing its image in the international community.

Li Yingfeng (www.voc.com.cn): China signed on to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, which clearly demands that all signatory countries cover 50 percent of packaging surfaces with warning text and pictures. However, in China, less than 30 percent of cigarette packs is utilized for this purpose.

According to a Canadian Cancer Society report released in November 2011, at least 63 countries had already required their respective tobacco industries to include graphic health warnings on packaging material, which is now a world trend. Nevertheless, China still lags behind in its own efforts.

According to China Health Ministry statistics issued in 2012, the country is home to more than 300 million smokers, and 52.9 percent of men smoke. In addition, 11.5 percent of local adolescents smoke. Given the context, the fight to curb tobacco use is a tough one. On the one hand, tobacco control slogans are shouted at full volume while on the other, implementing effective measures to address the problem is sidelined.

The industry has also greatly added to the country's expenses on health care and social security, due to huge harm to both consumers and their families. It's shortsighted to focus on tax revenues alone in the face of social loss.

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