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SCMP Editorials: China must do more to discourage its people from smoking; Cadres’ smoking ban good but not enough, Chinese media say

from the SCMP Editorial:

After Xi Jinping’s crackdown on official extravagance, many mainland officials must have felt that smoking remained one of their few pleasures. It is also a habit shared by more than 300 million compatriots. This helps support more than 20 million growers on the land, 500,000 employed in factories and 10 million involved in retailing, but it also kills an estimated 1.2 million a year through related causes. The Communist Party’s Central Committee and State Council are therefore to be commended for asking officials to “take the lead” in toeing the line on a smoking ban in public places. Flouting of the ban by officials has made a mockery of China’s ratification in 2005 of the WHO framework convention on tobacco control, which includes a ban on smoking in indoor workplaces and public areas. How can smokers be expected to take it seriously?

The tallying of the social and fiscal benefits claimed by the state tobacco monopoly against attempts to quantify the terrible health and economic costs is bizarre. In a rare regulatory filing last year, China National Tobacco Corp revealed it made more than 300 million yuan (HK$381 million) a day in net profit in 2010. The industry paid an estimated 753 billion yuan in industrial-commercial taxes in 2011. No matter how profitable it may be, governments have no business being in the tobacco business except to run it down and get out of it, regardless of arguments that if the government doesn’t control it, someone else will. That is a matter for law enforcement.

The authorities have banned officials from smoking in schools, hospitals, sports venues, public transport vehicles or any other venues where it is banned. That is a start. Given the social tentacles of tobacco addiction, such as dependence on it for livelihoods, the government cannot close the industry down overnight. But it can learn from other places that have cut smoking rates drastically, including Hong Kong, by raising tobacco taxes progressively to make the habit ever more expensive, especially for young people before they earn enough to afford to become heavy smokers.

3 Jan 2014

from Zhuang Pinghui’s What the Mainland media say, published in the SCMP:

The mainland media have welcomed moves to ban officials from smoking in public places, but say this goes nowhere near far enough.

The government should be pushing to bar smoking in all public areas to reduce the numbers killed by tobacco-related illnesses each year, commentators said.

An official circular was issued last week banning cadres from lighting up in areas such as schools, hospitals, sporting venues and museums and on public transport. It also stops them smoking while on official duties, such as in meetings or at business lunches.

Previously, it was health and education departments that had got tough on officials and staff smoking, and some media said the new directive was a step in the right direction.

The Workers’ Daily said tobacco production had increased by half in the past 10 years and the ban might signal a turning point in efforts to curb smoking.

But People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said much tougher action was needed. More than half of officials smoke and if they stopped lighting up in public areas it would set a good example to the rest of society, but legislation had to be introduced to press the issue.

“A smoking ban in public areas cannot depend on just a government notice,” the newspaper said. “[It’s hoped that] a national law for a smoking ban will be released.”

The Legal Evening News said government oversight of the tobacco industry must also be changed. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology controls the tobacco industry, but its priority is business, not disease control, the newspaper said.

“The speciality of the ministry is not protecting people’s health. It’s not related to people’s health, but it is a ‘blood relative’ of the tobacco industry.

“We look forward to the separation of the government agency in charge of tobacco production from that in charge of tobacco control and that health authorities be empowered to take the lead in tobacco control,” it said.

Other media also discussed the links among government officials, cigarettes and corruption. A Chinese saying goes that “cigarettes make a bridge and wine paves the way”, with smoking and drinking seen as a way of breaking the ice and making contacts.

Luxury cigarettes, costing thousands of yuan a carton, are a status symbol on the mainland and are often given as gifts to government workers.

A senior official in Nanjing was investigated for corruption after photographs showed him smoking luxury brands on several occasions.

The Today Morning Express said public money was often spent by officials buying cigarettes as gifts because they play such an important role in social contacts among government staff.

But the newspaper said it was difficult to audit or regulate the spending because it was often included in the budgets for conferences, catering, or even stationery by cadres.

“Cigarettes are an introduction letter and wine the stepping stone to make contact,” the newspaper said.

One official at a government department in Henan told The Beijing News he supported the central government’s smoking ban, but said it should not be hastily implemented because stopping cadres lighting up too suddenly could make them ill. The official’s comments were met with incredulity by an editorial on the news portal [1]

The Yangtze Evening Post said banning officials from smoking in public would do more than just curb tobacco use. It has reduced “one piece of ground that yields corruption”, the newspaper said.

The Qilu Evening News said there should be detailed rules and punishments for those who violate the ban and a system should be set up so the public could report culprits caught taking a drag.

5 Jan 2014

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