Smoking cost outweighs benefits

Updated: 2011-01-07 09:00
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BEIJING - A new report said Thursday that the medical and economic costs of smoking-related diseases in China had outweighed the financial benefits provided to the country by the tobacco industry.

The reduction in the number of smokers in China has been negligible, said the report, "Tobacco Control and China's Future," by Yang Gonghuan, deputy head of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Hu Angang, head of the Center for China Studies of Tsinghua University.

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The number of smokers between the ages of 15 and 69 declined by 0.08 percent annually from 2002 to 2010, much less than the 0.87 percent from 1996 to 2002, according to the report.

A total of 301 million Chinese, or 28 percent of the population, inhales a steady diet of cigarettes and 740 million people, including 182 million children, were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2010, said the report.

The report came three days before the fifth anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which took place in China on Jan 9, 2006.

The report identified China's tobacco industry as the major culprit for the stalled tobacco control efforts in the country.

In China, it is the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) that is responsible for tobacco control, said Yang, also head of China's National Office of Tobacco Control.

However, the China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC), the world's largest cigarette maker, which produces more than 95 percent of China's tobacco products, is part of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA).

The most effective action to control tobacco consumption is to let the Ministry of Health or a new ministerial-level department take over tobacco control efforts, according to the report.

However, the tobacco industry had always cited the economic losses that might be caused by declining tobacco consumption as a reason that China should not urge its people to stop smoking through price increases and legislation, said Yang.

China's tobacco consumption, nearly the same as its production, has been steadily growing, from 589.9 billion cigarettes in 1978 to about 2.3 trillion in 2009, according to the CNTC website.

The production value of the tobacco industry rose from 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) in 1978 to 513.1 billion yuan in 2009, while the economic costs arising from tobacco use has long been underestimated, said Yang,

Smoking killed 1.2 million people in China in 2005, and the number of deaths was expected to reach more than three million in 2030, said the report, quoting the WHO and China CDC.

The report cited a study by the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University and the Department of Economics of Stockholm University in 2008 as saying that tobacco use resulted in more costs than the taxes and profits it generated, using the 2005 figures as an example.

In that year, tobacco was responsible for direct medical costs and indirect economic costs of about 252.6 billion yuan, more than the 240 billion yuan in taxes and profits the industry generated, said the report.

The report forecast that the net contribution of tobacco to China's economy was minus 61.8 billion yuan in 2010.