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Chinese scientists and scholars issued a letter of appeal on Sunday demanding a ban on tobacco technologies from winning any science and technology award.
So far, 118 people, including university professors and retired researchers from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, have signed up to the appeal, expressing their dissatisfaction that the Ministry of Science and Technology has accepted a tobacco-related technology as a candidate for an award.
"A science and technology award for a tobacco technology will only boost the sales of cigarettes and severely damage public health," said Suo Chao, spokesman of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.
The organization wrote a letter to the ministry on March 31 expressing opposition to the ministry's action and has not received a reply yet.
The appeal to the ministry was initiated by sciencenet.cn, a science site well known among Chinese research institutes and sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Engineering and National Natural Science Foundation of China.
The number of people supporting the appeal is on the rise, according to the website.
Suo said tobacco control efforts in Western countries have witnessed impressive results in recent years. China, however, lags far behind.
"The country's approval of tobacco companies applying for awards is nothing but an encouragement and promotion of tobacco sales," he said. "This is irresponsible."
The appeal came when the Ministry of Science and Technology publicized on March 22 that a cigarette technology has been listed as a candidate for the National Award for Science and Technology.
According to an introduction on the ministry's website, the "Chinese cigarette flavoring theory", recommended by the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, will greatly enhance the flavor of cigarettes with 70 kinds of fragrant and sweet additives, and help to reduce the quantity of imported tobacco and increase the income of domestic tobacco companies.
The award is granted to Chinese citizens and organizations that have made technological and scientific contributions.
The ministry's action has aroused intense dissatisfaction and objections among scholars and the public.
"Accepting the tobacco technology is simply a violation of the government's responsibility," said Wu Yiqun, an anti-tobacco activist from the ThinkTank Research Center for Health Development, a non-government organization committed to smoking control.
According to Wu, rewarding "cigarette innovation" is against the rules and regulations of State science and technology awards, which forbid the government from conducting any scientific research that might pose a potential hazard to public health and safety.
It also violates the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control by adding additives to cigarettes to promote smoking, she said.
"The tobacco companies are taking advantage of the government's drive for profit," said Wu. "The government cannot simply let go of its responsibility at the sight of profits."
The Ministry of Science and Technology, however, still insists on including the tobacco technology in its award list, despite the public protest.
In response, more than 10 well-known academics and experts, including Zhong Nanshan and Qin Boyi of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, are drafting an open letter to appeal to the government to fulfill its social responsibility and attach significance to public health.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, tax revenue in 2011 from tobacco industries in China - the world's top tobacco producer and consumer with 350 million smokers and 740 million second-hand smokers - soared to 753 billion yuan ($119 billion), an annual growth of 22.5 percent.
About 1.2 million Chinese die from tobacco-related diseases every year, more than the combined number of people who die from AIDS, tuberculosis, traffic accidents and suicide in the country. The figure is expected to exceed 2 million in 2030, Deputy Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said in February.