Chinese grassroots battle for smoking-control

15:55, August 15, 2010      

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Wu Yiqun, 64, deputy director of Thinktank, a Beijing-based NGO mainly dealing with public health issues in China, was requesting that two sturdy men show their reporter IDs at Thursday's seminar.

"They cannot show any kind of certificate, not even a business card. But they insist that they were sent by Beijing TV and would film our symposium. They didn't like to reveal their names. So, I couldn't check with Beijing TV." Wu said to a colleague.

"Please come next time with your invitation letters or ID. We welcome different voices to join in, and I am ready to argue against any tobacco-promotion forces." Wu said to the two men.

At last, both men were unwillingly "invited" to leave by the security men.

This is the real situation the Chinese NGOs working on smoking control are facing.

Wu is a former deputy director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in China. After her retirement from CDC, she has devoted herself to smoking-control for almost ten years. Smart as a Shanghainee, Wu shows it in her work.

"I spotted them once they came into the hall. You can see from their face and their unprofessional behaviour. I cannot say they are sent by tobacco industries, but we have been harassed by unidentified men several times," said Wu.

Thursday, the organization held a seminar to plan their opposition to tobacco- sponsored advertisements, which is spreading in China.

One of the world's largest tobacco producing and consuming nations, China manufactures about 100 billion packs of cigarettes each year. The country now has a smoking population of 350 million, about one-third of the world's total.

Each year, about one million Chinese die from lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases directly linked to their tobacco use, according to statistics from the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC).

Under the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which China ratified in 2005, the country will ban all types of tobacco advertising and promotion by 2011.

However, the tobacco industries use other forms, such as outdoor activities, to promote their products. The Beijing Tobacco factory put its brand, Zhongnanhai, a geographic name known as the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, as images on cigarette packets, and words like "lights" on outdoor participants' clothing and posters.

"This practice is the tobacco company's way to get around the conventional guidelines." said Shen Weixing, a professor of law from Tsinghua University.

"Top priority here is to adopt an anti-smoking law that bans smoking in public areas, and make sure it is fully implemented, " said Shen.

However, such an anti-smoking law would inevitably affect the tobacco industry, which has long been considered a major source of government tax revenues.

But Wu Yiqun said tax gains from the tobacco industry are far less than what China has lost in medical expenses and deaths related to smoking.

"There are many smoking pictures in Chinese movies and TV series, which are very misleading to young people," said Wu Yiqun.

"Shanghai turned down a 200-million-yuan sponsorship deal for the 2010 World Expo from a tobacco company in July 2009. This has set a very good example for us," Wu added.

"Actors smoking in movies and TV programs are a kind of tobacco advertisement. Tobacco companies link cigarette use to charm, energy and sexiness. This attracted a lot of young targeted groups," said Sarah England, Technical Officer of the World Health Organization in China.

"Further bans are needed on billboards, the Internet, cigarette giveaways and discounts," added England.

Medical professors, lawyers, journalists and social activists attended Thursday's seminar, many of them being volunteers.

"We are very delighted to see so many people devoting themselves to smoking-control activities. It arouses public awareness to tobacco risks, especially second-hand smoking, and we are strongly encouraged to continue our work," said Wang Kean, director of Thinktank Research Center for Health Development.

Source: Xinhua


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