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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: May 28, 2012 NO. 22 MAY 31, 2012
Your Life Up in Smoke
The government prepares to introduce new anti-tobacco measures as the number of smokers in the country continues to grow
By Yin Pumin

NO TOBACCO: Students of Xi'an Jiaotong University participate in an anti-smoking awareness campaign in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on May 28, 2011 (LI YIBO)

China will establish further regulation on smoking control in public places in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), said the Ministry of Health in a circular on May 7.

China signed the convention in 2003 and made it effective as of January 2006, pledging to fulfill its FCTC obligations before January 9, 2011. However, there has been no national legislation to ban smoking in public places.

To further curb tobacco use across the country, the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued an ordinance on May 1, 2011, establishing a ban on smoking in 16 types of public indoor venues, including hospitals, schools, bars, restaurants and hotels.

But the ban has proven to be a failure so far due to lax enforcement, said Suo Chao, a spokesman for the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC). "The ban has barely had any effect because there are no specific penalties for people who violate the ban," Suo said.

In the circular, the MOH also proposed establishing a hotline to help those who want to quit smoking.

The proposition is one of a range of smoking control measures included in the MOH circular before the 25th World No Tobacco Day on May 31. It also called for qualified health institutions to set up special smoking cessation outpatient departments.

The circular said that health institutions at all levels should train medical workers in smoking control.

According to WHO, China is the world's largest tobacco producer, with the most consumers and victims of cigarettes. Statistics show that the country has 320 million smokers, accounting for one third of the world's smokers, and 740 million people are exposed to second-hand smoke.

About 1.2 million Chinese die from tobacco-related diseases every year, more than the combined number of people who die from AIDS, tuberculosis, traffic accidents and suicide in the country. The figure was expected to exceed 2 million by 2030, Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said in February.

"With the situation becoming tougher, it will be a long-term task to fight against tobacco in China," Suo said.

Job still tough

In early March, the China National Tobacco Corp. (CNTC), the country's cigarette monopoly, disclosed its financial figures for the first time, revealing that its net profit stood at 117.7 billion yuan ($18.60 billion) in 2010.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's tobacco industry paid 752.96 billion yuan ($119.05 billion) in tax in 2011, an annual growth of 22.5 percent, of which 600.1 billion yuan ($94.88 billion) went to the national treasury.

Amid the rapid growth of the tobacco industry, more new smokers are emerging every day in China, especially among the youth and women. The average age that Chinese people start smoking is decreasing, said Huang with the MOH.

A CATC survey of some 40,000 students across China last year showed 15.8 percent of high school students smoked habitually and 22.5 percent said they would consider trying it.

"Smoking has become quite prevalent among students," Suo said. "Teenagers between 12 and 14 are especially vulnerable. More than 26 percent of them are willing to try smoking."

It is important to manage the types of influences they are exposed to, Huang said at the launching ceremony of a non-smoking pilot program in schools in Beijing on February 16.

According to the CATC, the reason that more students are starting to smoke is the lack of a smoke-free environment and the lax enforcement of existing bans.

The survey shows that the majority of teenage smokers buy cigarettes themselves and about 76 percent of adolescent smokers said that there is at least one cigarette shop within 200 meters from their school.

"The earlier people pick up smoking, the less likely they are to quit smoking in the future, and minors, who have a poor sense of self-control, are more likely to be tempted by cigarettes than adults," Huang said.

Also, Duan Jiali, Secretary General of the Youth Tobacco Control Commission under the CATC, said that teachers and parents should set a good example for teenagers by not smoking in front of them at school or at home, which is the most influential way of stopping adolescents from smoking.

"When teenagers see adults around them smoke, they might do it too," said Liu Changming, Headmaster of the Beijing No.4 High School. "It's important to provide them with a smoke-free environment in school through awareness campaigns or regulations."

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