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Print Edition> Nation
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

The compliance rate of existing laws and regulations banning smoking is low, said Yang. Smoking at indoor workplaces and public places is still prevalent. The 2010 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) published in this August showed that in China, about one third of people noticed smoking in public transportation and health care facilities, six in 10 adults noticed smoking at the workplace, while almost nine out of 10 noticed smoking in restaurants.

Xu also pointed out despite China's regulation on tobacco packaging and labeling, the warning messages used are not effective in deterring people from smoking. Many people in China are not fully aware of the serious health risks of tobacco products and still send them to others as gifts, Xu said.

Meanwhile, tobacco companies target young people by sponsoring charity events, Yang told the WHO earlier this year. She said a primary school rebuilt after the Sichuan Wenchuan earthquake with funds from a tobacco company was named Sichuan Tobacco Hope Primary School, and the school walls are inscribed: "Talents are brewed by intelligence; tobacco helps you grow up and become accomplished."

Another perplexing issue about tobacco control in China is that although the WHO FCTC has been in force for several years, the number of smokers and the production and sales of tobacco products have increased over the years, said Xu.

Data from China's National Bureau of Statistics show that in the first half of 2010, the national wholesale volume of cigarettes reached 446.1 billion yuan ($65.6 billion), and the tobacco industry paid 325.2 billion yuan ($47.8 billion) in taxes, up 16.7 percent and 17.32 percent respectively from the same period last year.

The tax contribution by the tobacco industry to the Chinese fiscal revenue was 8 percent in 2009, said Zhang Xiulian, spokesman for the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.

Tobacco is a lucrative industry, especially for big tobacco provinces such as Yunnan. Although a 2005 Peking University study found that the health costs of tobacco exceeded the profits from the tobacco industry, yet Yang told the WHO that the government is reluctant to relinquish the revenue.

"The workforce loss indicated by the study is a long-term problem, but most local government officials are focused on today's issues," Yang said.

The fundamental obstacle to tobacco control is institutional conflicts of interests, Yang said, as the organization in charge of the tobacco control policy making and enforcement is also in charge of tobacco production in China.

"It's like a bunch of foxes in a chicken coop discussing how to protect the chickens," Yang described the situation to Sanlian Life Weekly.

China's Tobacco Control Regulations

Since 1981, the Ministry of Education has enacted several regulations prohibiting middle school students from smoking.

In 1991, the National People's Congress of China passed a law on the protection of minors, prohibiting smoking in indoor public places where minors gather.

In 1994, China's Advertisement Law adopted by the National People's Congress outlawed tobacco advertising on radio, television and in newspapers.

In 1997, the Ministry of Health, jointly with the Civil Aviation Administration of China and some other government departments issued a regulation banning smoking on public transport.

In 2007, the Beijing Municipal Government banned smoking in taxis and in most indoor public areas the following year. Other cities, such as Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Yinchuan, have followed Beijing's example and promulgated regulations banning smoking in public venues.

On May 20, 2009, the Ministry of Health ordered a comprehensive smoke ban in medical institutions nationwide from 2011.

(Sources: Website of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control and media reports as specified)


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