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UPDATED: November 22, 2010 NO. 47 NOVEMBER 25, 2010
Fighting a Smokeless War
China still faces formidable challenges while endeavoring to keep its commitments under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

SAY NO TO TOBACCO: Students in Wuji School of Rushan City, Shandong Province, stand in the pattern of a smoke-free sign on May 27 to mark World No Tobacco Day (LIU GUOXIAN)

On November 15, a new global report indicated that "efforts to combat the global tobacco epidemic are lagging, in spite of strong progress in some countries." The report was published by the Framework Convention Alliance, a coalition of more than 350 non-governmental organizations from over 100 countries.

The report was released during the Fourth Conference of the Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, on November 15-20 this year.

Although China was not included in this report, its fight against tobacco is in a similar situation. Progress has been made regarding tobacco control in China, said Yang Gonghuan, but China's efforts are not enough.

Yang is the director of China's National Office of Tobacco Control under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China's CDC). She also serves as deputy director general of China's CDC.

China ratified the WHO FCTC in 2005 and put it into force on January 9, 2006.

The convention includes measures to reduce tobacco consumption and supply. Parties to the convention are obligated to restrict or comprehensively ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. They also will have to put proper warnings on tobacco packaging, protect people from exposure to secondhand smoking in public places, implement taxation policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption and clamp down on illicit trade in tobacco products.

China is the largest consumer and producer of tobacco products. Statistics from China's National Office of Tobacco Control show China accounts for one third of the world's total smoking population, cigarette sales and cured tobacco output.

Currently, more than 300 million Chinese adults smoke, and about 540 million non-smokers are exposed to secondhand smoking, including 180 million children under the age of 15, according to China's Ministry of Health.

Every year, about 1 million people in China die of tobacco-related diseases, said the Ministry of Health.

Piecemeal progress

China has made great progress in controlling tobacco consumption, Yang told the Beijing-based Sanlian Life Weekly. Now, there is stronger political will, enhanced public awareness and increased media coverage on tobacco control in China, Yang said.

During the annual session of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, dozens of bills and proposals related to tobacco control were put forward, Yang said. The number used to be very small, she added.

At the grass-roots level, many villages and counties hold smoke-free meetings, and citizens host smoke-free weddings. In this sense, the effectiveness of tobacco control is very obvious, Yang said.

On World No Tobacco Day, which falls on May 31, various activities are held nationwide to draw attention to the tobacco epidemic and to the preventable death and diseases caused by smoking.

Some localized or partial smoking bans have been put in place in China. Now, cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Yinchuan have promulgated regulations banning smoking in public venues, Xu Guihua, Vice President of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, told people.com.cn.

To comply with the packaging and labeling requirement set forth in WHO FCTC's Article 11, in April 2008, the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and the State General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine jointly issued a regulation governing the packaging and labeling of domestically produced tobacco products.

The regulation requires such warning messages as "smoking harms your health" and "quitting smoking early helps reduce the risk" be displayed on tobacco products' packaging, and the warnings should cover at least 30 percent of the display areas. Nonetheless, it does not mandate pictures or pictograms depicting the health hazards of tobacco use.

Formidable challenges

Despite the progress in tobacco control, China has a long way to go, said Xu. China does not have any comprehensive smoking ban at the national level, whereas 17 other countries have, she said.

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