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March 6th, 2015:

Government urged to bring plain packs to a vote

Plain-pack supporters including the Maori Party urged the government to rethink its go-slow approach to standardising packaging for tobacco products and send legislation back to Parliament, the New Zealand Herald reported.

A survey in Australia showing a decline in the smoking rate to 12.8 per cent in 2013, the first year of plain packaging, from 15.1 per cent in 2010 was cited as grounds for quick action to protect public health, the newspaper said on its website. The New Zealand measure was put on hold after the government said it would await the outcome of complaints against the Australian law filed with the World Trade Organisation and Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga was cited in the article saying the government continues to support plain packaging, but has not changed its position on awaiting the outcome of legal challenges.

Australia remains the only country with a plain-pack law. The Irish parliament this week approved a plain packaging bill and the UK government has promised a parliamentary vote on its proposal in March.

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。







办公电话: +86 10 6532 7191

Tobacco goes out of sight as shop keepers admit to little profit from cigs

Retailers are preparing to end years of openly-displayed tobacco on their shelves, with nearly all (94 per cent) acknowledging they made little profit from selling the deadly product, according to a new Cancer Research UK report* published today (Friday).

“Smoking kills 100,000 people every year in the UK. From April tobacco will no longer be in plain view of children and young people every time they go into a shop.” – Alison Cox
Researchers from King’s College London – who carried out the study – interviewed 62 retailers. While most felt that tobacco was an important part of their business almost all said they made little profit from it. In contrast, the tobacco industry rakes in £30 billion in profits each year.

The tobacco industry argued that removing tobacco displays would severely impact business for shop owners, but research does not support these claims. Over two thirds of shop keepers were not against removing tobacco from sight. Furthermore, the long term decline in tobacco sales may explain why 40 per cent of shop keepers said they wanted to reduce their reliance on selling tobacco.

Small shops** have to remove tobacco from sight by April 6 2015, bringing them into line with larger shops that stopped displaying tobacco back in April 2012.

A YouGov survey*** shows that 79 per cent of the British public support Government action to reduce the number of young people who start smoking and 75 per cent support putting tobacco displays out of sight in all UK shops.

Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said: “Removing cigarettes from sight behind shop counters is a practical step towards protecting children from tobacco marketing. In addition, retailers showed an interest in reducing their reliance on tobacco sales – we know that they will benefit from consumers purchasing products other than cigarettes, which are deadly and addictive. Other consumer products will have a higher profit margin than cigarettes. We should explore how best to support retailers in diversifying away from tobacco.”

“As the doors shut on tobacco retail displays, we can look forward to the last main channel of tobacco promotion, the current glitzy and attractive tobacco packaging, being closed off with the vote for standardised packaging coming soon.”

The Trading Standards Institute will be responsible for inspecting small shops and enforcing the law. It is also supportive of the change.

Leon Livermore, chief executive of the Trading Standards Institute, said: “We encourage the reduction of tobacco use by those who are underage. Prevention and early intervention not only saves the tax-payer money, it saves lives. Trading standards continues helping businesses interested in complying with government regulations.”

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “Smoking kills 100,000 people every year in the UK. From April tobacco will no longer be in plain view of children and young people every time they go into a shop. Research shows that children exposed to tobacco displays are more likely to start smoking and removing these eye-catching, colourful walls of cigarettes will protect them from tobacco marketing. Our successful ‘Out of sight, out of mind’**** campaign will help reduce the devastating impact of tobacco and has taken us a step towards achieving Cancer Research UK’s goal of creating a smoke-free generation.”

Notes to Editor

* Robert Calder, Sara Hitchman, Catriona Rooke and Ann McNeill. ‘Closing the Doors on Tobacco Promotion’. Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London. March 2015

** Large shops are those with over 280 sq m of floor-space.

*** All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,834 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th – 14th January 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

**** ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ campaign:

As Kim Jong Un Puffs Away, A Push to Curb Smoking in North Korea

(Bloomberg) — North Korea executes officials and arbitrarily imprisons those seen as enemies of the state. Its citizens struggle to put food on the table.

Yet when it comes to North Koreans kicking their cigarette habit, Kim Jong Un’s government is willing to help.

As countries the world over scramble to combat smoking, even one of the most repressive states on the planet is displaying concern that half its male population lights up.

The impoverished nation has one of the world’s highest lung cancer rates. To examine ways to cut the number of smokers, they’ve turned to one of the world’s leading anti-tobacco campaigners, Judith Mackay, who has counseled kings, presidents and vigilantes in a three-decade war on smoking.

“They’re facing the headaches health officials all over the world are: it’s the same product, same concerns, same consequences,” said Mackay, a senior policy adviser to the World Health Organization. “At this moment in time, North Korea has a unique opportunity to stub out this epidemic.”

Inspecting Troops

Officials in Kim’s government seem more concerned than their boss about the potential damage of tobacco use. In December, weeks after the North Korean dictator vanished for 40 days last year due to health problems attributed to his lifestyle, he was pictured in state media inspecting troops, his trademark cigarette still in hand.

Since coming to power three years ago, Kim has frequently been caught on camera smoking: sitting on a bed during an official hospital visit; alone on a ski lift; alongside a specially placed ashtray at the theater; even at the site of a rocket launch.

While the majority of the country’s 24 million people face chronic food shortages, it emerged from famine in the 1990s with a better child nutrition record on some indicators than India or Indonesia. The hermit kingdom is also working on enforcing bans in smoke-free areas and studying raising prices from as little as 27 U.S. cents a pack now to a deterrent level, Mackay says.

Even so, getting people to quit will be a challenge with the nation’s ingrained smoking culture and Kim’s penchant for 727s, a brand named after “Victory Day,” marking the end of the Korean War in 1953 when the split with South Korea was cemented.

“Cigarettes are more or less omnipresent in Kim’s public appearances,” said Adam Cathcart, a lecturer at the University of Leeds, who studies North Korea-China relations. “He’s very obviously addicted, even when he’s not smoking he’s fidgeting with his cigarette pack through his trench coat.”

Mackay has a track record in one-party states. She considers a 2012 meeting with the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Party School one of the pinnacles of her career, and says policy directives that followed led to a “sea change” in the commitment to tobacco control in the country.

Three decades ago, when she began campaigning against smoking in China, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping smoked in public often. Today, none of the seven elite Politburo Standing Committee members are seen holding cigarettes and the State Council is weighing laws to make all public places smoke-free. While it’s too early to gauge the impact of China’s measures, which are not in force yet, the WHO says they could fuel a discernible decline in the smoking rate.

Soccer Team

Mackay’s work in North Korea began a decade after she lent a helping hand to some of the country’s soccer heroes in 2002.

She and her husband helped sponsor some parts of a trip taken by stars of the nation’s 1966 World Cup team, when the athletes revisited the town of Middlesbrough, England, where a documentary about them — called ‘The Game of Their Lives’ — had been filmed. The Mackays made the gesture after reading a newspaper report about how the ex-players were short of funds to attend an event commemorating a match where they famously defeated Italy.

When the couple planned a tourist visit to Pyongyang in 2012, health officials granted her a rare official meeting when they found out about her “unique contribution,” she said.

Mackay has returned several times since, meeting ministers of health, finance and education to discuss tobacco-control plans. North Korea has a five-year plan to fight non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, in line with other countries following WHO programs.

Kim, who is believed to be around 30, is sometimes the face of that campaign. Examples of clips regularly broadcast on state media are ones of Kim explaining the health benefits of eating fish or even admiring some new exercise machines, Cathcart said.

Swiss Cheese

“He sort of sounds like Michelle Obama at times,” Cathcart says, referring to the U.S. First Lady’s public health mission. “His concern for the well-being of the North Korean people is supposed to be all-encompassing.”

While accounts of Kim’s love for vodka and Swiss cheese swirled in foreign press when he disappeared from view after Sept. 3 of last year, smoking stands out as the bad health habit he indulges in so publicly. Kim’s father, former leader Kim Jong Il, was also often pictured smoking.

Officials in Pyongyang are still in an early stage of tobacco control and forming legislation, but they’re “intensely interested” in learning what other nations have experienced, Mackay said.

Children Smoking

During the 46-year rule of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s medical system was extensive, according to Hazel Smith, the director of University of Central Lancashire’s International Institute of Korean Studies. Life expectancy doubled from 31 in the 1950s to almost 70 by 1989, said Smith, who lived in Pyongyang from 1998 to 2001 while working for UN agencies.

When famine ravaged the nation in the mid-1990s, infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis soared, she said. Smoking was sometimes the only available solace, even among children.

“If they couldn’t find food they’d pick up cigarette butts and re-roll whatever tobacco remained with discarded paper,” journalist Barbara Demick wrote in her 2009 book ’Nothing to Envy.’ “Almost all the children smoked to dampen their hunger.”

Since the economy stabilized at the turn of the millennium, North Korea restarted public health campaigns on everything from the importance of washing hands to getting vaccinated.

“Action can happen quickly if North Korea decides to do it,” Mackay said, referring to the country’s all-powerful government. “Not many countries in the world are in that position.”

Male Habit

The male smoking rate was 52.3 percent in 2012, according to the WHO’s country office, with a zero smoking rate among women. Women typically do not smoke in public as it is considered an inappropriate activity for their gender, according to George Washington University PhD student and North Korea scholar Benjamin R. Young.

Many men pick up the habit when they’re serving their mandatory military duty, which can last up to a decade, Simon Cockerell, general manager at Koryo tours, who has been to North Korea more than 140 times since 2002 and organizes tourist visits there.

North Korean men are “among the world’s most prolific smokers,” said Catherine O’Connor, senior analyst at market research firm Canadean. “While it is clear that official policy of North Korea is to reduce per capita levels, the absence of any real policies to reduce tobacco use suggests this is far from the case and indicates that smoking rates within the country will remain high.”

The per capita consumption of tobacco is expected to increase 19 percent to 23.3 billion cigarettes smoked a year by 2022, fueled by low-cost domestic brands and younger people taking up the habit, according to O’Connor.

Cigarette brands have names like Ggulbol (honey bee), Dungdae (lighthouse) and Pungnyon (fruitful year) in the country. Some North Koreans like to smoke foreign brands to show off their status, Cockerell said, such as Mild Sevens, the Japanese cigarettes now known as “Mevius.” Kim smokes the domestic ’727’ brand, he added.

Tobacco Business

It is hard to estimate the size of the tobacco industry relative to the economy, O’Connor said in an e-mail, as it remains one of the world’s most secretive societies. The country’s economy expanded 1.1 percent in 2013 to about $30 billion, South Korea’s Bank of Korea said in June, putting it on a par with Bolivia.

Smoking is allowed almost everywhere, though not near the statues of the Kims that dot the country, as it would be disrespectful to have cigarette butts around those, according to Koryo’s Cockerell.

Global “no-smoking day” campaigns are announced on the news, though more common are reports of Kim Jong Un’s tours and visits where he’s holding a cigarette in his hand, he said.

The impact of that in the psyche of the smoker’s mind isn’t clear. In a country of 24 million people, “no way are they just listening to one person, that’s a myth,” Smith added.

Mackay says sometimes people express shock when she tells them she’s helping North Korea, citing its record of human rights abuses. The campaigner is undeterred.

“I’ll work in any country which has smokers,” she said. “I say to them: ‘if you feel that the North Korean people are suffering, do you want them to suffer even more?’”

To contact the reporter on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brian Bremner at; Anjali Cordeiro at

Neil Western