More likely to die from tobacco in China

Updated: 2011-01-06 20:43
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BEIJING - It is estimated about 3.5 million Chinese will die each year from tobacco-related illnesses by 2030, according to a report issued here Thursday.

The health consequences of the tobacco epidemic are very serious in China and tobacco smoking has become the top killer of the Chinese population, said the report titled "Tobacco Control and China's Future".

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China has witnessed an increasing number of tobacco-related deaths since 2000. There were 1.2 million tobacco-related deaths in 2005, and if indeed 3.5 million people die of tobacco-related illnesses in 2030, this will likely account for 43.75 percent of all tobacco-attributable deaths in the world.

This is higher than the previous estimate of 3 million deaths per year by 2050, showing the smoking epidemic is worsening in China, said Sarah England, an official of the China office of the World Health Organization (WHO), in an interview with Xinhua.

The report, as a joint assessment done by a group of Chinese and foreign health experts and economists, was issued at a time marking the 5th year since the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) entered into force in China.

China signed the FCTC agreement in 2003 and approved the agreement in 2005, pledging measures to effectively curb tobacco consumption. The FCTC took effect in China in January of 2006.

Experts reviewed the tobacco control situation in China, the country with the largest number of smokers as 300 million, saying that the country's tobacco control effects were poor with considerable gaps from the FCTC requirements in the past five years.

For example, no national-level law has yet been passed banning smoking in indoor public places and workplaces, and there is no designated law on tobacco control. The Advertisement Law remains unrevised, and tobacco companies continue to circumvent advertsing and sponsorship bans and cigarette pack warnings are not well implemented.

The tobacco tax and cigarette prices are still low and not linked with each other, and the tobacco industry and its related interest group have launched many conter-tobacco control activities.

Moreover, the level of people's awareness of the hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke was insufficient. The findings of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey in 2010 indicated that more than 75 percent of Chinese people could not fully understand the harm of smoking to human health, and 67 percent could not understand the harm of passive smoking.

Tobacco use prevalence in males has been staying at the top level in China. The numbers of current smokers in China is over 300 million, almost the same number as in 2002, and the secondhand smoke exposure has not changed over the last ten years or so.

An estimated 740 million nonsmokers are being exposed to secondhand smoke in 2010, and the exposure remains serious in public places and workplaces.

Tobacco use has caused enormous health hazards and a heavy social and economic burden, and the tobacco-ralted diseaseas also cause considerable losses to the labor force.

In the next 20 years, tobacco-attributable deaths will continue to increase quickly, which will undoubtedly cause an intense disease burden upon the entire society and serious challenges for the medical services and medical assurance system, according to the report.

The medical expenditures and loss of productivity are increasing by the year at a continuously expanding rate. Though one may argue the merits of the tobacco industry on the basis of big taxpayer or numerous employees, the integrated benefit analysis shows that the net benefit generated by the tobacco industry is already below zero.

The tobacco industry has become the largest industry endangering the health of the country, a key priority in economic transformation and industrial restructuring, said the report.

The report said an absence of government responsibility is the fundamental reason for the inadequate effectiveness of tobacco control in China.

Experts suggest that China should begin the implementation of the national strategy of comprehensive tobacco control in the 12th five-year plan period (2011-2015).

To do this, the public servants should take the lead and become role models; the tobacco industry should be restricted in production and prompted for transformatioin; and economic measures shoud be taken to control tobacco consumption.

Hu Angang, professor of the presitgious Tsinghua University and also co-editor to this report, said the country should make efforts to change from the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer into the world's most active and effective country in tobacco control in a relatively short period of time.