China fails pledge on indoor smoking ban

By Zhang Jiawei (
Updated: 2011-01-04 17:50
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China's pledge to ban smoking indoors looks set to go up in smoke as the Jan 9 deadline set five years ago approaches.

China fails pledge on indoor smoking ban
A power plant worker smiles at Tangyin, Henan province, after signing her name on a campaign board to promote tobacco control. Volunteers who signed the names on the board vowed to stay away from cigarettes. [File photo/China Daily]

Despite the promise on entering the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2006, The Beijing Times reported Tuesday that China has witnessed no decline in smoking, but has 200 million more people suffering from the effects of second hand smoke over the past three years.

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A report named Tobacco Control and China's Future, which will be issued on Thursday, said 3 million deaths in China will be caused by smoking in 2030, accounting for 25 percent of the total, compared with 2 to 3 percent for AIDS.

The social welfare effect of the tobacco industry has also declined sharply from 150 million yuan ($23 million) in 1998 to minus 60 billion yuan in 2010, considering the high costs including medical and labor which far outnumbered its contribution of tax and employment, the report said.

"The situation will be even worse in the next 20 years," said Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the National Center of Disease Control of China.

Lax enforcement of tobacco control

Yang said it is hard for the government to take a knife to the tobacco industry because it is an important taxpayer, despite 60 experts' research finding the industry has posed the greatest threat to people's health and become the main factor for the fast rise of chronic diseases in China.

Anti-smoking activists said a law is crucial to enforcing the commitment to the tobacco control convention. But China has yet to make one, and its current Advertising Law doesn't even ban tobacco companies from advertising.

The lax enforcement of China's commitment was highlighted when tobacco firms including Hongta Group, Guangdong Shuangxi and Shanghai Tobacco were nominated among the top 10 Chinese social responsible enterprises in November.

The move triggered heated debates online and was seen as an obvious violation to the WHO tobacco control convention which required participating countries to ban tobacco advertisements, promotion and sponsorship on the fifth year of committing to the convention.

Despite the freedom of advertising, tobacco firms have also tapped into the public welfare area.

A total of 52 tobacco companies donated to or sponsored 79 public welfare activities in 40 cities and counties from September to December 2009, according to the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.

In November 2010, China's State Tobacco Monopoly Administration established two funds for China Women's Development Foundation and donated 10 million yuan to support two welfare projects.

The convention also requires warning information to cover at least 50 percent of cigarette pack's total visible area, but the only warning one can find on the fine-looking and tempting Chinese cigarette packs is a line of small characters reading "smoking is bad to your health."

Zhi Xiuyi, a professor and a member of the Chinese Anti-Cancer Association, said expensive cigarettes are generally used in gift-giving and public funds consumption. "If we print disgusting pictures like rotten feet and lung on cigarette packs, they would loss their market."

Low cigarette prices

Long, a man suffering from lung cancer after smoking for more than 50 years said the cigarette he usually smokes costs less than 10 yuan a pack and he needs more than one pack everyday.

The low price is definitely a huge temptation for Chinese smokers considering the fact that a pack of cigarette costs about 60 yuan to 70 yuan in Hong Kong and New York.

Yang Gonghuan said China imposed a 5 percent tax on the tobacco wholesale process and raised its tobacco tax in 2009, which didn't cause a decline in the country's tobacco consumption, but made the sales of some kinds of tobacco to keep a growing trend.

"The tobacco tax was seemingly raised, but the sum of cigarettes that have price hikes is quite limited," Yang said, adding only by raising tobacco's retail prices can the country enforce tobacco control by a pricing mechanism.

Beijing's move

Beijing Municipal Bureau of Health said on Dec 24, 2010 that tobacco control is in its 12th year plan and the city's public indoor spaces, public working place and public transportation vehicles will be totally smoke-free by 2015, which means the goal is postponed by five years from the original 2010.

But when a law will be issued is still unknown, because "it involves the communication and coordination of many government departments."

According to official data released in 2009, 70 percent of Beijing's public spaces have banned smoking, 1,020 restaurants, 218 hospitals and 66,000 taxis are smoke-free after a new regulation was enforced in 2008.

But the rule seems to have become loose recently, with smoking and smoke-free areas not being separated in some restaurants and smoking still found in smoke-free areas.