BEIJING -- Lawmakers are pressing for tighter tobacco control to reduce smoking prevalence in China, where a quarter of the population are smokers.
The country should initiate a tobacco control program as soon as possible to cut down tobacco supplies and demands, and protect people's health, Ma Li, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), said on the sidelines of the top legislature's annual meeting.
China now has more than 350 million smokers, more than 26 percent of its total population, said Ma, also director of the China Population and Development Research Center.
With an annual sale of two trillion cigarettes, China is the world's largest cigarette market.
"Should the current smoking prevalence continue, two million Chinese would die from, and six to eight million would suffer, tobacco-related diseases by 2030," he said.
China joined the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, but has not yet had a national program for tobacco control so far, Ma noted.
He urged the Ministry of Health to outline a five or ten-year-program to keep tobacco production and sales under control, and gradually encourage tobacco growing areas to shift to crop substitution.
He also suggested relevant authorities make a public report once a year on the country's tobacco control progress.
Ma's concern over the lagging progress of tobacco control was shared by NPC deputy Wang Longde, head of the China Preventive Medicine Association.
"Nearly half of China's male health workers smoke; cigarette packages sold in China bear only minimum warning slogans or pictures; and it is common practice to give cigarettes as gifts. All these are making tobacco control a pressing job at hand," Wang said.
A survey conducted by China's National Tobacco Control Office found 70 percent of Chinese people do not know about the danger smoking poses to health which, according to Wang, included heart, lung, respiratory and stomatic diseases.
Wang said he had advised the NPC to set up law on the prevention of tobacco harms as soon as possible.
"I am not alone on this," Wang said, "Many other NPC deputies have also made such suggestions."
Shi Zuolin and Huang Xihua are two of them.
Shi, dean of Fujian Provincial Healthcare Hospital for Women and Children, said the country should set up a law which forbids smoking in public areas. Huang, from the southern province of Guangdong, urged producers to print striking warning pictures, for instance, one of a smoker with throat cancer, on cigarette packaging.
China has already seen some progress in tobacco control in recent years. The country's capital Beijing banned smoking in most of its public places, including hotels, schools, cinemas, theatres and offices in May last year. Smoking in the city's taxis was also banned.
Shanghai and Hangzhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang are also considering a smoking ban in public areas.
The health ministry also started a campaign on March 1 this year to urge medical workers to take the lead to quit smoking, with more than 300,000 health workers involved, who were also required to encourage their patients to give up the addiction.
"But our efforts still face many challenges," Wang Longde said.
The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration is on the one hand a government department which should honor China's commitment to the FCTC to curb smoking. But on the other hand, the administration is in charge of cigarette sales.
"The paradox between the two roles the administration plays would surely affect China's tobacco control progress," Wang said.