China, with one third of world's smokers, promises a "non-smoking" Olympics
China, with 350 million smokers - about a third of the world's smoking population - has vowed to put on a "non-smoking" Olympic Games.
Zhang Bin, an official with the Ministry of Health (MOH), said on Monday that smoking will be banned at all hospitals that will be used specifically for the Games by the end of 2007.
The ban will extend to public transport and public buildings, with places that offer services to children the main concern, Zhang said.
In his meeting with World Health Organization Director-General Lee Jong-Wook in 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao said a non-smoking Games is on top of the agenda for China's preparations for a green Olympics.
The ministry has learned from the practice and experience of previous Games hosts, Zhang said.
The concept of a "non-smoking" Olympic Games, initiated in 1988, was put into practice in Barcelona in 1992.
Considering the country's large smoking population, Zhang warned that China faces many obstacles to overcome in hosting a non-smoking Olympics.
The largest tobacco producer and consumer in the world, China reports about one million deaths from smoking each year, and the figure is expected to reach three million by 2050.
The spread of smoking results in the heavy burden of providing medical treatment for illnesses like lung cancer, said Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"It is society who has to foot the cost of medical treatment made by tobacco promotion," she said.
Tobacco control needs the participation of NGOs and people from all walks of life, she said.
She called for a prompt implementation of the national action plan on tobacco control with priority placed on teenage education and publicity.
The expert also appealed for promulgating national laws to ban smoking in public places and to beef up early detection and treatment of lung cancer.
"The current consumption of cigarettes will see an increase in deaths from lung cancer in the next 20 to 30 years, apart from other causes like the aging of the population, greater industrialization and deterioration of environment," she continued.
Unfortunately, China is still slow in detecting lung cancer and most patients do not receive the necessary surgery in time, said Qiao Youlin, researcher with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, who specializes in cancer treatment.
"The high cost of early detection methods of lung cancer prevents early diagnosis, especially in rural areas," he told Xinhua.
The new cooperative rural medicare system promoted by the government in the past few years has only provided farmers with about 50 yuan (6.25 U.S.dollars) for healthcare, but the screening costs about 300 yuan (37.5 U.S. dollars), he said.
"Therefore, China's treatment of lung cancer still lags far behind developed nations," said Qiao, adding that the five-year survival rate of lung cancer patients in developed nations is 15 percent, but less than 10 percent in China.
Besides the rising cases of lung cancer, the MOH has also warned that Chinese smokers are taking up the habit at a younger age with the number of smokers aged 18 or under standing at 50 million.
At the launch of the Chinese version of a World Health Organization (WHO) global report on the prevention of chronic diseases earlier this month, the MOH revealed its most recent nationwide survey conducted in 2002 showed that 66 percent of men and 3.08 percent of women smoked, a rise of 30 million compared with 1996.
The surveys also showed women and children were major passive smokers both at home and in public, with 55 percent of women over the age of 15 subjected to passive smoking every day.
Public awareness of the harmful effects of smoking is still too low, WHO officials warned, noting that although the government has banned smoking on public transport, it is still allowed in many public places including restaurants.
Although the tobacco industry contributes up to 10 percent of tax revenue, there is no reason not to act, said Robert Beaglehole, director of the WHO's department of chronic diseases and health promotion, at the launch ceremony.
"The cost of tobacco use to countries and families is far greater than 10 percent," he said.
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