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November 27th, 2014:

Health experts optimistic over anti-smoking law

26 November, 2014

Zhuang Pinghui

Public health experts are optimistic that the mainland’s draft tobacco-control regulation has a good chance of curbing smoking if properly implemented.

The draft regulation, published by the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, proposes banning smoking in all indoor public areas – and certain outdoor ones, near hospitals and kindergartens, for example.

It also calls for all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to be banned, while graphic and verbal health warnings must take up at least half the outside of a cigarette pack.

The draft details specific government agencies that will handle offences in different areas and lists penalties for offenders.

Individuals smoking in forbidden areas will be fined between 50 yuan (HK$63) and 500 yuan and businesses face fines of up to 30,000 yuan or even the revocation of their business licences.

Smoking will not be permitted to be shown in movies or television shows, and scenes of actors lighting up could also attract 30,000 yuan fines.

“We can safely say the draft has thoroughly adopted the most important articles of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” said Yang Jie, a researcher at the office of tobacco control at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

China ratified the convention in 2005 but has failed to introduce a complete smoking ban in indoor public areas, as required.

The issue now is whether the mainland will water down the rules in the final law, and how well it will be implemented.

The lobbying power of the state-owned tobacco monopoly is significant – tobacco sales contributed between 7 per cent and 10 per cent of the country’s tax revenue over the past decade.

“There are some articles in the law that the tobacco companies might oppose during the consultation period. We will send our opinions. We expect there will be some wrangling with the industry,” Yang said.

“As for implementation, the best chance of making it effective is to involve multiple government agencies.”

Smoking is common across the mainland, even in hospitals and government offices. The former health ministry issued its own ban on smoking in indoor public areas but it was poorly implemented. Several cities have introduced their own smoking bans, with some enforced by a dozen or more agencies while others are policed by only a few.

Yang researched 10 cities and found that regulations involving multiple agencies had the best chance of working as long as they had to report to a central office.

Shenzhen, for example, did not hand out a single fine under previous smoking rules, yet had issued more than 300,000 yuan in fines since March when a tougher regulation came into effect.

Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the think tank Research Centre for Health Development, said the law’s articles included details of implementation and accountability. “I am very optimistic,” he said. Both Yang and Wu agreed the State Council’s proposed regulations would help control tobacco use even without a more senior law passed by the NPC, which could take years.

India plans to restrict cigarette sales to those aged at least 25

27 November, 2014

Expert panel proposes cigarette sales be restricted to those aged at least 25, the highest in the world, and that trade in single sticks be banned

Health campaigners have welcomed India’s unprecedented plans to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 25 and ban unpackaged cigarette sales, calling them a major step towards stopping nearly one million tobacco-related deaths a year.

India, with a population of 1.2 billion, would have the world’s highest minimum legal age for buying cigarettes if plans to increase the limit from 18 to 25 were implemented.

The plans, proposed by an expert panel, were announced by health minister J.P. Nadda in parliament on Tuesday and will need final approval by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet as well as parliament before becoming law.

“This is a very welcome move by the government,” Binoy Mathew, spokesman for the non-profit Voluntary Health Association of India, said. “It’s going to act as a huge deterrent, especially for students and youngsters.”

Around 900,000 people die of tobacco-related illnesses in India each year, the second-highest number after China.

An estimated 70 per cent of cigarettes sold in India are unpackaged, equating to more than 100 billion sticks in 2012, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

Campaigners say the practice of selling single cigarettes at street stalls has pushed up smoking rates, particularly among teenagers and the poor who cannot afford a full packet.

“These people were easily buying single sticks for 10 to 15 rupees, but now they will have to shell out some 200 rupees (HK$25) for the full pack, which will not be so easy,” said Mathew.

Indians consume tobacco in several forms apart from cigarettes, including “gutka” – a cheap, mass-produced mix of tobacco, crushed areca nut and other ingredients – and hand-rolled sticks called “beedis”.

New Delhi announced last month that tobacco companies would have to stamp health warnings across 85 per cent of the surface of cigarette packets from next year.

Monica Arora, from the Public Health Foundation of India, applauded the jump in the minimum age for buying cigarettes.

“Research shows that if someone hasn’t started smoking at 21, chances of that person becoming a tobacco user drops drastically,” said Arora, director of the foundation’s tobacco control initiatives. “Ninety per cent of youth take to smoking before the age of 18 and they experiment by buying single cigarettes.

“Now they will have to buy full packs which will have pictorial warnings and they would get reminded of the dangers every time they reach out for a smoke.”

The proposed ban would badly affect companies such as ITC, India’s largest cigarette maker, which earned US$164 million from sales in 2013-14.

Arora acknowledged that enforcement of any law would be difficult and would need a community-led approach. Cigarettes are sold at small stands on most street corners.

“If you sensitise the retailers and tell them about what is illegal and that there are strict penalties, they would not want to violate the laws,” she said.

Researchers say inadequate public awareness of smoking risks, coupled with aggressive tobacco marketing, has left Asian nations with some of the world’s highest smoking rates, at a time when sustained campaigns have cut rates in the US, Australia and parts of Europe.

Big Tobacco distributes report bullying plain packaging laws

The two biggest tobacco companies in Australia have begun a campaign to undermine the nation’s plain packaging laws, ahead of a Department of Health review of the effectiveness of the regulations.

Philip Morris and British American Tobacco have briefed research and data to media outlets as “proof” plain packaging laws have failed, on the eve of their second anniversary on December 1.

Philip Morris is promoting “a new piece of independent research that finds there is no evidence that plain packaging for cigarettes is working”.

That research, emailed to media by Philip Morris, is titled “The Plain Truth about Plain Packaging: An Econometric Analysis of the Australian 2011 Tobacco Plain Packaging Act”.

One of the research authors, Professor Sinclair Davidson, is a senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank that has received considerable funding from Big Tobacco over the past 10 years.

According to Philip Morris spokesman Simon Dowding, “the study was produced by respected Australian academic Professor Sinclair Davidson from RMIT, and has just been published in the Australian National University journal, Agenda”.

But it makes no mention of Professor Davidson’s association with the IPA, or the long history of tobacco funding of the organisation.

Philip Morris claims Professor Davidson’s “independent research” proves that “sales of tobacco are surging despite plain packaging”.

The IPA’s deputy executive director James Paterson said that while 25 per cent of their funding came from business donors, they had a “longstanding policy of protecting their [donors’] privacy”.

At the same time British American Tobacco is pushing data re-released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showing the rate of smoking has gone up among 12-17 year olds.

Spokesman Scott McIntyre said the data showed the national smoking rate had increased in that age group by 32 per cent, rising from 2.5 per cent in 2010 to 3.4 per cent in 2013, meaning the laws’ primary objective of deterring children had failed.

But the statistics body’s head of tobacco and other drugs unit, Amber Jefferson, said the report clearly stated that the sample size was too small to be able to draw a conclusion of a spike in uptake.

“The results remain stable. There might appear to be a percentage point increase, but it’s not statistically significant,” she said.

Earlier in the week libertarian senator David Leyonhjelm – who receives funding from big tobacco – also held a press conference calling for a crackdown on illegal tobacco sales, which tobacco companies claim have risen since the introduction of plain packaging.

A co-ordinated assault just ahead of the review of plain packaging laws is emerging, with the Australian Retailers Association on Wednesday also labelling the laws a “waste of retailer’s time and resources”.

Executive director Russell Zimmerman cited a KPMG report which showed that illegal tobacco accounted for 14.3 per cent of all tobacco use, up from 13.5 per cent on the previous year.

Mr Zimmerman said the ARA was concerned illegal tobacco products were “swamping the market” and costing the government $1.2 billion in tobacco excise.

The tobacco giants may be getting nervous, as raw sales data obtained from Australia’s supermarkets indicates smoking rates have fallen over the past year, even though revenues are up due to higher taxes.

IRI-Aztec data, which tracks actual sales at Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Foodworks, reveals the number of cigarettes sold at supermarkets fell 2.9 per cent last financial year, suggesting that plain packaging and higher taxes are working to reduce smoking rates.

The supermarkets covered by the IRI-Aztec report account for more than 65 per cent of Australia’s $13.5 billion cigarette and tobacco market.

Scientists Say E-Cigs Contain 10 Times As Many Cancer Chemicals As Cigarettes

Tokyo (AFP) – E-cigarettes contain 10 times the level of cancer-causing agents as regular tobacco, Japanese scientists said Thursday, the latest blow to an invention once heralded as less harmful than smoking.

The electronic devices — increasingly popular around the world, particularly among young people — function by heating flavoured liquid, which often contains nicotine, into a vapour that is inhaled, much like traditional cigarettes but without the smoke.

Researchers commissioned by Japan’s Health Ministry found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapour produced by several types of e-cigarette liquid, a health ministry official told AFP.

Formaldehyde — a substance found in building materials and embalming fluids — was present at much higher levels than carcinogens found in the smoke from regular cigarettes, the official said.

“In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette,” said researcher Naoki Kunugita, adding that the amount of formaldehyde detected varied through the course of analysis.

“Especially when the… wire (which vaporises the liquid) gets overheated, higher amounts of those harmful substances seemed to be produced.”

Kunugita and his team at the National Institute of Public Health submitted their report to the ministry on Thursday.

In common with many jurisdictions, Japan does not regulate non-nicotine e-cigarettes.

Nicotine e-cigarettes, or so-called Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), are subjected to the country’s pharmaceutical laws, but they can be bought easily on the Internet, although they are not readily available in shops as they are in some Western countries.

“You call them e-cigarettes, but they are products totally different from regular tobacco,” the ministry official said.

“The government is now studying the possible risks associated with them, with view to looking at how they should be regulated.”

– ‘Serious threat’ –

In August, the World Health Organisation called on governments to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, warning they pose a “serious threat” to unborn babies and young people.

Despite scant research on their effects, the WHO said there was enough evidence “to caution children and adolescents, pregnant women, and women of reproductive age” about e-cigarette use, due to the “potential for foetal and adolescent nicotine exposure (having) long-term consequences for brain development”.

The UN health body also said they should be banned from indoor public spaces.

US health authorities said earlier this year that the number of young people there who have tried e-cigarettes tripled from 2011 to 2013.

More than a quarter of a million young people who had never smoked a cigarette used e-cigarettes last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Supporters of e-cigarettes say the devices are a safer alternative to traditional tobacco, whose bouquet of toxic chemicals and gases can cause cancer, heart disease and strokes and are among the leading causes of death in many countries.

But opponents say the devices have only been around for a few years, and the long-term health impact from inhaling their industrial vapour is unclear.

Big tobacco companies are snapping up producers of e-cigarettes, wary of missing out on a snowballing global market worth about $3 billion.

Earlier this month, Oxford Dictionaries picked “vape”– the act of smoking an e-cigarette — as their new word of the year

E-cigarette use and intentions to smoke among 10-11-year-old never-smokers in Wales

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