Smoke-free list extends to healthcare facilities

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-11 10:46

Smoke-free list extends to healthcare facilities

The Zhongshan Hospital in Xiamen city, Fujian province, seals its smoking room with anti-smoking signs last March as part of tobacco control efforts.[China Daily]

The Ministry of Health will make public a list of "smoke-free" healthcare facilities by the middle of next year to encourage public supervision, an official said yesterday.

All the listed facilities and health administrations will be subject to public and media supervision, Li Xinhua, an official of the ministry in charge of smoking bans, told China Daily.

The measure is expected to facilitate tobacco control in China, where about 1 million people have reportedly died of smoking-related diseases.

The country is home to about 3.5 million smokers, official figures showed.

According to the latest study commissioned by the Paris-based International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, smoking-related diseases will claim more than 2 million Chinese lives annually by 2020, Reuters reported.

"It (China) will continue to suffer an enormous burden of diseases from tobacco use because the longer people smoke, the worse their disease gets, (hence) the worse the death rates get. The costs of treating such diseases ... will be serious," the agency quoted Sinead Jones, director of tobacco control at the union, as saying.

Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the National Center of Disease Control of China, said at the third Nicotine Dependence Conference in Beijing last week that the tobacco industry generates a lot of tax and employs a large number of people, which is why progress in tobacco control is painfully slow.

Last year, the Ministry of Health decided to clean up its own offices before spreading the anti-smoking message to the rest of the nation. It announced a plan to ban smoking in all healthcare facilities and government-run health departments.

"It's the doctors who should take the lead in kicking the habit," an expert had said.

As a "mid-term goal, all health administrations and half of the country's healthcare facilities should be smoke-free by the end of 2010", the ministry said.

The time left for achieving the goal is "limited, and the situation is a little chaotic", Wang Chen, head of the Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, said at the Nicotine Dependence Conference.

Many hospitals claim to be smoke-free, but in reality, they are anything but that, he said.

The ministry banned indoor smoking and the sale of cigarettes in hospitals across the country and asked medical workers to acquire knowledge about tobacco control.

Many doctors specializing in respiratory disease treatment are still unaware that smoking is related to tuberculosis, and nearly 60 percent of doctors do not know smoking causes erectile dysfunction, said Wang, one of the country's leading respiratory disease experts.

"Many other doctors think smoking is a habit and not an illness, a dependence on nicotine," he said, adding that nearly 60 percent of male doctors in the country are smokers, the highest in the world.

Wang Feng, a Beijinger in his 50s, said he has bumped into doctors hiding in the toilets of hospitals and puffing away.

"If I know doctors smoke, why would I quit?" he asked.

The ministry's Li said there are still no laws to punish healthcare facilities, medical workers and health officials who violate the smoking ban.

"All we can do is carry out checks in hospitals, or hope the media could play its role and supervise the ban," he said.

A positive sign, however, is that a number of smokers have voluntarily quit smoking inside hospitals.

"Lighting up in open air is a sign of respect for the patients," said Cui Hailong, a Beijinger in his 20s.