Current cigarette laws too weak - experts

08:53, May 31, 2010      

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It kills 1.2 million people every year in China; it is the No 1 cause of death around the globe; it tortures 53 percent of Chinese children without their knowledge; and it never shows fear of medical treatment.

And it has only one enemy - legislators. But China, despite its promise to the WHO, is not determined to squash it, experts said.

"Smoking control is an either-or choice. The government has to choose either the health of its people or GDP growth, but it seems to worry more about the revenue," said Wang Chenguang, head of the health law research center at Tsinghua University.

In November 2003, China became a member of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international public health treaty to reduce tobacco-related death and disease.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, approved the FCTC in 2005.

According to the commitment China made to the FCTC, the Chinese government should have taken effective measures to cut tobacco production and reduce cigarette consumption in the following five years.

However, China's tobacco consumption actually increased 19 percent in those five years, according to official figures.

"Although the FCTC is legally effective, it has to be converted into domestic laws to be implemented," said Shen Weixing, executive director of the health law research center at Tsinghua University.

"As a result, the country should amend existing laws and enforce more effective measures. But it hasn't shown much enthusiasm," he said.

According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, China does not have a national law against smoking in public, though tobacco bans are included in laws and regulations such as the Tobacco Monopoly Law, the Youth Protection Law and the Regulations on Hygienic Management in Public Places.

"Laws on smoking control are few and leave many loopholes. Moreover, they are too general and vague and don't have specific punishments," said Jiang Yuan, associate director of the smoking control office of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Furthermore, local legislation has also failed to put smoking controls in place.

"More than 100 cities in China have regulations on smoking control, but none have met the criteria of the FCTC," said Cui Xiaobo, professor of social medicine at the Capital Medical University.

Cui said Chinese decrees do not ban smoking in workplaces, which is required by the FCTC, and laws and regulations concerning tobacco advertisements and package markings do not meet the FCTC articles either.

According to Wang, the reason for the Chinese government's indifference toward stricter smoking control is rooted in China's tobacco monopoly regulation.

"Tobacco counted for 10 percent of China's taxation and tobacco sellers will not support smoking control. It's a game of the interest groups," Wang said.

Cui said the existing reality in China will not allow nationwide controls on smoking.

"The most crucial factor in smoking control is people's habits," Cui said, "If most people don't know the harm of smoking, no ban can be carried out."

"If we can't fulfill the agreement on time, it will damage China's reputation and impede the process of smoking control around the globe," Cui said.

Source: China Daily


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