China / Society

Report warns of risk from nicotine addiction

By Wang Qingyun and Shan Juan (China Daily) Updated: 2012-05-31 02:33

Smoking habits have barely changed over the past decade and lack of knowledge about damage caused by nicotine addiction poses huge challenges, a landmark report said.

According to Health Hazards of Smoking, issued by the Ministry of Health on Wednesday, China accounts for about 40 percent of global production and consumption, and is the world leader for both.

The report, the first official document issued by the ministry on the dangers of nicotine, shows that the smoking rate among people aged from 15 to 69 had declined by just 0.08 percent from 2002 to 2010.

Chen Zhu, the minister of health, listed the challenges facing those trying to reduce the number of smokers.

"More than half of males aged 15 and over smoke. Obviously, there are a lot of teenagers in that number. As many as 740 million Chinese people are exposed to passive smoking. People are underestimating the harmful effects."

The launch of the report supports scientific findings on the harm tobacco can cause, Chen said.

Wang Chen, vice-president of Beijing Hospital, who played a leading role in compiling the report, said it should remind people of the dangers of tobacco.

"Everybody knows smoking is bad for their health, but they know little about the dangers of smoking. Because of this, they don't fully realize the importance of tobacco control and smokers are less motivated to quit. This poses a great obstacle to tobacco control in China."

According to the report, more than three quarters of people lack sufficient knowledge of the dangers caused by smoking and more than two thirds are unaware of the hazards of passive smoking.

On top of that, 54.7 percent of medical workers surveyed underestimated the effects of low-tar cigarettes.

Zhong Nanshan, who specializes in respiratory problems at China's Academy of Engineering, attended the report's launch on Wednesday and believes it came just in time.

"We need this report," Zhong said, citing the mistaken belief among some people that smoking can help cure SARS and Alzheimer's disease. The report is also useful, Zhong said, to combat the tobacco industry promoting low-tar or herbal cigarettes.

About a million Chinese people die from smoking-related diseases each year on the mainland, according to a 2011 report Tobacco Control and China's Future, compiled by 60 specialists in public health, economics and law.

The report estimated that the net contribution of the tobacco industry to the economy was minus 61.8 billion yuan ($9.5 billion) in 2010.

May 31 marks the 25th World No Tobacco Day, with a theme of tobacco industry interference, which was also mentioned at the launch ceremony.

"So far, 173 nations, including China, have pledged together to implement the convention on tobacco control," Michael O'Leary, the WHO representative in China, said in a speech at the ceremony. "However, these tobacco control efforts are systematically opposed by the tobacco industry," he said. "Government, non-governmental organizations, academia and individual citizens can all act to put an end to tobacco industry interference."

Zhong also expressed his opposition to tobacco industry interference, referring to the State Tobacco Monopoly Bureau and State Tobacco Company. Both participate in tobacco control efforts.

"The organization that produces and sells tobacco is the same organization that participates in tobacco control. The production puts profits first, but tobacco control puts people's health first ... I don't understand why they are together. The mechanism needs changing."

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Zheng Xin contributed to this story.


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