Smoking deaths to double without action - WHO

Updated: 2007-05-31 08:36

A man receives laser treatment to help him stop smoking at a healing centre in northern China's Tianjin municipality May 30, 2007. [Reuters]
BEIJING - Cigarette-related deaths in China will more than double by 2020 unless the government introduces comprehensive measures to curtail smoking, the World Health Organisation said Wednesday.

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Henk Bekedam, the WHO's representative in China, said smoking was "socially and economically devastating" for the country, which is the world's biggest producer of tobacco.

"The death toll from diseases associated with tobacco is about one million Chinese annually, a figure that is expected to increase to 2.2 million per year by 2020 if smoking rates remain unchanged," he said in a statement ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Thursday.

China is responsible for one third of the worlds cigarette manufacturing output and the government rakes in massive profits, as it runs a tobacco monopoly.

"Fighting tobacco is not easy, especially when there is a state monopoly on tobacco production," Bekedam said.

He urged authorities to raise tobacco taxes, ban cigarette advertising and issue stronger warning labels on tobacco products. He also said there should be an increase in smoke-free areas.

The government has banned smoking on public transport but it is still allowed in many public places, including restaurants.

"China needs to implement comprehensive measures that will change peoples behaviour and lead to fewer people smoking," Bekedam said.

He added that the 2008 Beijing Olympics were a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to change smokers' behaviour.

Olympic organisers are planning a smoke-free Games next year and officials have announced that legislation imposing strict curbs on tobacco use at Olympic sites will be announced on Thursday to coincide with World No Tobacco Day.

"China has committed to a smoke-free Olympics. Delivering on this will send a powerful message and generate momentum for a sustained long-term campaign," Bekedam said.

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