NGO calls for tough action on tobacco control

16:22, December 29, 2010      

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Concrete action on tobacco control at State level is far too rare on the Chinese mainland, according to a report released by a non-governmental organization on Tuesday.

Based on the current situation, China, which is home to the world's largest smoking population, could hardly live up to the promises it made when it signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO), said the report, Tobacco Control 2010 in China - A Civil Society Perspective.

This is the second time the anti-smoking advocacy group Thinktank has released such a report.

Each year, 5.4 million people die of smoking-related diseases worldwide, one fifth of whom are in China. The country now has 350 million smokers on the mainland, including 180 million teenagers, WHO statistics showed.

Without effective intervention, another 100 million Chinese will die from smoking-related illness by 2050, half of them aged between 30 and 60, experts estimated.

"Despite the FCTC commitment, the central government has made little progress in implementing these rules, such as introducing a substantial action plan for tobacco control at State level and the long-awaited nationwide legislation on smoking bans in public places," said Thinktank Director Wang Ke'an.

Yang Gonghuan, head of the National Office of Tobacco Control, said that progress in reducing the number of smokers had almost stalled since China ratified FCTC in 2003.

The number of smokers on the mainland decreased by 0.45 percent annually from 2003 to 2010, only half of the rate between 1996 and 2002, she noted, citing a study to be published in January.

However, China's tobacco consumption has been rising in recent decades, from nearly 590 billion cigarettes in 1978 to roughly 2.3 trillion in 2009, statistics on the website of the China National Tobacco Corporation showed.

And cigarette production has increased by 33 percent since 2002.

As the tobacco industry reportedly generated more than 513 billion yuan ($77 billion) in taxes in 2009, accounting for 7.5 percent of total government revenues, "the bloody truth that lung cancer cases in China have jumped nearly 400 percent since 1980 shouldn't be ignored by decision-makers", said Zhi Xiuyi, head of the Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Center of the Capital Medical University in Beijing.

"Over the long run, the government has to consider the human and financial cost of tobacco and begin to take substantial action against that," said Huang Jianshi, a public health expert in Beijing.

He also encouraged all stakeholders from different fields such as the law, health, and education, to stick to the "long and hard" task of tobacco control.

Despite a lack of national legislation, by 2010 more than half of China's 337 large and medium-sized cities had issued regulations to ban smoking in certain public areas, said the report.

It also repeated the call for national legislation on tobacco control.

Also, it said a new ministerial-level department should be commissioned to lead the national campaign for tobacco/smoking control, replacing the current Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which also administers China's largest tobacco producer.

Currently, China National Tobacco Corporation, the largest cigarette-maker in China and reportedly the largest worldwide, makes 95 percent of China's tobacco products and is a subsidiary of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, which is under the ministry.

By Shan Juan, China Daily
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