Efforts to ban smoking

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-06 07:56
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Our restaurants, workplaces, hospitals and public transport are supposed to be smoke free from Jan 9. On that day, five years ago, China ratified the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Last year the government mouthed high-sounding words about clearing smoking from all indoor public places. But they look like being in vain. With the deadline three days away, the government still hasn't come up with a clear message for the ban.

Under the treaty, we are committed to prohibiting smoking from this year in all indoor public places and offices, as well as on trains and buses.

Delaying the smoking ban lets more people become the victims of tobacco. And it lets the nation fall into discredit for breaking its promise. The treaty calls for signatory nations to put in place "effective legislation" and other measures to ensure "protection from exposure to tobacco smoke" in indoor public places.

The government's reluctance to impose the ban right now gives tobacco giants a reprieve and the opportunity to shovel up more money.

We admit that the tobacco industry contributes a large sum to the nation's coffers. The Chinese tobacco industry, a state monopoly, produces one-third of the world's cigarettes each year. Taxes levied on the tobacco industry produce more than 7 percent of the nation's total tax income.

The other side of the coin is that with more than a quarter of the population smoking and 740 million second-hand smokers, nearly 1 million people in the country die every year from lung cancer or cardiovascular diseases directly linked to smoking.

The country has let slip an opportunity to change these statistics for the better. In 2008 China hosted a smoke-free Olympics with the six host cities undertaking tobacco control initiatives. The momentum, however, was not strong enough to make the country's public places smoke free.

China lags far behind other countries in its efforts to impose restrictions on smokers. There are no national regulations on banning smoking in public areas.

Banning smoking in all indoor public places is a nut that the government must crack, regardless of the immediate impact on its tax revenues. If China fails to reduce tobacco consumption, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention expects the number of deaths to double by 2025 and triple by 2050. This would cut the productivity of the work force and puts a heavy burden on the country's healthcare system.

Spain set a good example for us. The country's reign as the last Western European haven for smokers ended on Sunday when a new law came into effect banning smoking in enclosed public places.

China needs to catch up quickly.

(China Daily 01/06/2011 page8)