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Time to declare war on the tobacco epidemic

By Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China

6 March 2015 – As thousands of delegates will converge on Beijing for the annual meetings of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) this week, health is likely to feature prominently in the discussions. There are few issues that could be more important to the national political agenda than the health of China’s 1.36 billion people. Without health, nothing else matters.

Good health is important for individuals to live long and happy lives. This is a goal which every society aspires to for all of its citizens. Good health also means a productive workforce and a strong economy. A healthy economy is a strong economy.

This year, we hope to see NPC and CPPCC members tackle the need to break China’s deadly addiction to tobacco.

Some NPC members have proposed that this year’s meetings be 100 per cent smoke-free. This would be an excellent step in the right direction. It would send a strong signal that China is finally getting serious about tobacco control.

China is the largest tobacco producer and consumer in the world. Nearly one-third of the world’s one billion smokers are Chinese men. Every minute, two people in China die as a result of an illness caused by tobacco smoking. The very high rates of tobacco smoking in China, especially among men, are not consistent with the aspiration for all Chinese people to live long and happy lives.

The scientific and health evidence is unequivocal. If you smoke, you will most likely die an early, and probably very painful, death.

The good news, though, is that there is a suite of policy measures which have been proven to reduce tobacco use around the world. These polices are contained in the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) – the world’s first health treaty. They include making all indoor public places smoke-free; warning people about the dangers of tobacco smoking – both through mass media campaigns and large, graphic warnings on tobacco packs; enacting and enforcing comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; offering cessation support to smokers to quit; and increasing taxes in order to raise prices on tobacco products to make smoking less affordable, especially to young people. 2015 is the tenth anniversary of the WHO FCTC coming into force, as well as the 10th anniversary of China ratifying the treaty. But not enough progress has yet been made in China on implementing it.

There is strong evidence from around the world that implementing the measures included in the WHO FCTC can have a massive effect for the health of people. Since a tobacco control law containing many of these policies first came into effect in Russia in 2013, the number of smokers in Russia is reported to have dropped by as much as 17 per cent in just one year. Russia is a country with an even higher smoking prevalence rate than China, and they are showing that it can be decreased.

We at WHO have been greatly encouraged to see progress on some of these policy areas in China over the last year. A draft national regulation to ban smoking in all indoor and some outdoor public places, and requiring stronger warning labels on tobacco products, is before the State Council. The NPC Standing Committee is currently considering changes to the national Advertising Law to strengthen restrictions on tobacco advertising.

Now, strong political commitment is needed, along with steely determination to stare down interference from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. This will translate the promise of progress into strong, well-enforced tobacco control policies which save lives.

I hope to see political leaders from across the country discussing how they can work together to achieve this during the two national meetings this week. And I hope to see them doing this in a 100 per cent smoke-free environment.

During last year’s NPC meeting, Premier Li Keqiang famously declared a “war on air pollution” – to the Chinese Government’s great credit, as air pollution is a well-documented, and very serious, problem in China. Our hope is that 2015 will be the year China declares war on the tobacco epidemic, so that all Chinese people stand a better chance at living a long and happy life.
About the World Health Organization

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

For more information please contact
Ms WU Linlin
WHO China Office
Office Tel: +86 10 6532 7191



2015年3月6日 – 本周,数千名代表将汇聚北京,出席今年的中国人民代表大会和中国人民政治协商会议,而健康可能是他们讨论的主要议题之一。在国家政治议程上,没有什么比13.6亿中国人民的健康更重要的事情了。没有了健康,其他任何事情都毫无意义。




中国是世界上最大的烟草生产国和消费国。全世界10亿烟民中有近1/3是中国男性;中国每分钟就有2人死于吸烟导致的疾病。中国、特 别是中国男性极高的吸烟率,与让全体中国人民长寿、幸福的宗旨相违背。科学和卫生领域的证据十分清楚,吸烟会导致早死、甚至更糟糕——死亡。

但我们也有好消息:我们有一系列能够减少烟草使用的政策措施,在全世界已被证明行之有效。世界首部卫生条约——世界卫生组织《烟草控 制框架公约》(世卫组织《控烟公约》)中就包含了这些政策措施,如:所有室内公共场所禁烟;通过大众传媒宣传活动和烟草包装上的大幅图形警告提醒人们吸烟 的危险;颁布并执行全面禁止烟草广告、促销和赞助的法规;向欲戒烟者提供支持;通过增加烟草税提高烟草制品价格,让人们尤其青少年吸烟更贵等等。2015 年是世卫组织《控烟公约》生效10周年,也是中国批准该公约10周年,但中国在公约履行方面的进展尚嫌不足。







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