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China's tobacco control failure   2011-01-07 08:25:00

Sunday will mark the fifth anniversary since the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control took effect on January 9, 2006, under which China committed to passing legislation on tobacco control, banning smoking in enclosed public spaces, and setting targets for reducing the number of smokers.



A caricature depicting the failure of China's five-year efforts on tobacco control

However, as we observe China's accomplishments in this time, embarrassment and confusion arise as we see China has not done well.

Although China did not encourage people to smoke, figures do suggest that the total number of smokers has been growing stubbornly, and most disturbingly, tobacco control is not even a subject of major public concern.

Statistics confirm that the public do not take tobacco-related health risks seriously.

Over two-thirds of the population do not recognize the pernicious effects of smoking, according to a report titled Tobacco Control and China's Future, published yesterday.

Given the broad indifference over the need to control tobacco consumption, tobacco-related deaths have mounted in recent years, costing the public health service much more than the tobacco industry brings to state coffers. However, worries still linger that an effective tobacco control campaign will hurt the economy.

It is hard to pinpoint whether tobacco companies' lobbying efforts have led to such indifference toward tobacco control. But undeniably, interest groups associated with tobacco have played an important role in slowing down related legislation and policy.

Some local governments have been addicted to the taxation received from lucrative tobacco companies. But this by no means justifies doing nothing.

Without immediately hitting budgets, we can optimize the structure of tobacco consumption and minimize the impact on public health.

The priority is to lower the level of passive smoking. Although many cities have adopted smoking bans in indoor public places, China has no national guidelines making such a move mandatory.

Although China's judicial system does not have rulings based on precedents, this makes it unlikely that  victims will win a profitable lawsuit against tobacco companies.

The government should also launch a radical ad campaign to disseminate anti-smoking information, a tactic that will substantively affect smokers' choices.

This will discourage those people who value their health but are not wholly familiar with the ills of smoking.

Finally, policy-makers must be clear that cigarette consumption is resistant to price hikes, which means a rise will not noticeably curb consumption. This invalidates the strategy of controlling tobacco consumption by increasing cigarette prices, but offers tobacco companies a trade-off: if a government-initiated anti-smoking campaign hurt tobacco business too hard, the government could encourage tobacco companies to raise cigarette prices.

source : Global Times     editor:: Big Mouth
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