Let's stop offering and accepting cigarettes
By Xin Dingding
Updated: 2008-02-13 07:23

Eat, drink and be merry. That's what Spring Festival is all about. But there are millions of people, too, who love to let happiness go up in smoke, literally.

Offering cigarettes to guests is a traditional Chinese way of showing respect to them. A cup of tea and cigarettes are perhaps the most common way of welcoming a guest in China, especially during festive occasions such as the Lunar New Year.

No wonder, 40 percent of the people surveyed recently said they would smoke at least twice the usual number of cigarettes during the Spring Festival holiday because of all those family and friend gatherings and banquets.

Only 20 percent of the respondents said they would refuse a cigarette when offered one. Why can't the others do the same? Because they could be seen as being rude, said more than half of the respondents. Fifteen percent feared they could be taken as "someone who cannot get along well with others".

That is precisely why anti-tobacco campaigners are appealing to people to give up this harmful habit.

The Think-tank Research Center for Health Development and Sohu.com survey shows 61 percent Chinese think offering a cigarette is useful for socializing, and 52 percent have offered cigarettes to others. The study polled 3,800 people, 64 percent of them men.

One-third of those polled were smokers, out of which 57 percent said they couldn't give up smoking because of the offering-and-accepting culture.

"People have accepted offering cigarettes as an effective way of making friends, which has made non-smoking campaigns even more difficult," research center director Wu Yiqun says.

As a professor and former deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, Wu was surprised to find that 7.36 percent of the people still believed smoking was not injurious to health.

China has more than 350 million smokers, catering to the tobacco market that is worth 500 billion yuan ($70 billion).

"The survey shows we still have a lot of work to do," she says. "Since Beijing is trying to make the Olympic Games smoke-free, it is time to let people know that offering a cigarette is a bad habit and it should be given up immediately."

Wu has urged young people to hold non-smoking wedding ceremonies and banquets.

By doing so, they would not only protect people from becoming passive smokers, but also save 15-20 percent of the expenses because that's usually what the cigarette budget adds up to.

(China Daily 02/13/2008 page1)