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It is time for our government to quit "smoking".
The theme of this year's World No Tobacco Day, which takes place today, aims to expose and counter the tobacco industry's brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine global tobacco control efforts.
Yet the Chinese government runs the world's biggest tobacco company and the country has been addicted to tobacco tax revenues, at all levels of the government, for far too long.
The wealth of many cities and towns depends on tobacco companies. Take Yuxi in southwestern China's Yunnan province. As 80 percent of its revenue comes from tobacco taxes, the town is built on tobacco. Its tobacco factory produces 93 billion cigarettes every year - enough to cause the deaths of 77,000 people, according to epidemiological studies.
Tobacco products are the only legally available products on our planet that can kill up to one half of their regular users.
China has ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which asks countries to remain alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts.
But tobacco companies heavily promote their deadly products through sponsorships and donations, trying all means to establish a socially responsible image to generate goodwill among the public.
And the cozy relationship between the tobacco industry and academic institutions affects tobacco control policy-making.
In addition to its own strong research capacity, the tobacco industry maintains close ties with an extensive network of academic research institutions and universities, whose goal is to persuade people that healthy smoking is possible.
However, the real problem for the country's tobacco control is structural. Contrary to the WHO framework convention, the same government body that develops and manages the tobacco industry in the country also oversees anti-tobacco efforts.
An independent watchdog is needed for the tobacco industry and the government must overcome its addiction to tobacco tax revenues.
(China Daily 05/31/2012 page8)