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China needs an all-out fight to curb tobacco consumption

25 March, 2015

Kamilia Lahrichi

China, the planet’s largest tobacco consumer and producer, is the only nation where tobacco consumption does not fall when the government imposes higher taxes on these products, as incomes are rising faster than the tax hikes. This is creating a serious public health issue.

In general, health pundits consider that taxing tobacco products is one of the most effective measures to control consumption. In high-income countries, if the state raises taxes on such products by 10 per cent, there is usually a 4 per cent drop in consumption, according to experts at the recent 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi, where health professionals and government officials called for tobacco controls.

Worryingly, wages in China are expected to rise further, thereby giving more purchasing power to the 300 million Chinese smokers. In addition, packets of cigarettes are much more affordable in China than in many other places. Some Chinese brands cost as little as HK$3.70, compared with HK$17 in South Korea, HK$41 in Japan and HK$75 in Singapore last year.

Although China has ratified the international treaty on tobacco control, imposing high taxes on cigarettes alone does not make sense, given that the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and the China National Tobacco Corporation – the largest cigarette producer on the planet – monopolise cigarette production in China.

From the state’s standpoint, decreasing the number of smokers would hit economic growth: state-owned businesses employ hundreds of thousands of Chinese and generate state revenue.

Not surprisingly, Euromonitor International has forecast that the number of cigarettes sold in China will rise at about 14 per cent per year.

As a result, tobacco consumption rates and related diseases are skyrocketing in China. An estimated one million Chinese die every year from tobacco-related diseases; the highest number in the world and one-sixth of the annual global toll.

“It is important that China takes appropriate action to reduce tobacco consumption,” said World Health Organisation director general Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun in Abu Dhabi. In fact, it is vital, given that the number of smokers has ebbed across the globe.

On the bright side, the Beijing authorities passed a law last year to ban smoking in public places in the capital. It will take effect in June. China is also considering regulations to prohibit indoor smoking, limit it in outdoor public places and curtail the advertising of tobacco products across the country.

The government also needs to implement other policies, such as including graphic warnings of the health risks on cigarette packs, in order to enhance Chinese people’s knowledge of tobacco-related diseases.

A 2009 WHO study found that only 38 per cent of smokers in China knew that smoking can lead to coronary heart disease, while just 27 per cent knew that it can cause a stroke.

Thus, it’s vital for the Chinese government to enforce these policies outside its large cities in order to curb smoking habits.

Kamilia Lahrichi is a foreign correspondent and the recipient of the 2014 United Nations Foundation’s “Global Issues” Journalism Fellowship.

CTA says: someone tell our tobacco company friendly Food and ?Health Minister !

It seems he and his ‘Policy Bureau’ do not get the message.

The way past excise tax increase does not even match inflation and tobacco remains affordable to children.

We deem that Misconduct in Public Office as no preventative health measures are being effectively used to stop children

becoming nicotine addicts.

Onus on licensed premises’ owners to stop smoking indoors?

Plain packaging to remove the glitzy pack colors?

Track and Trace Tax stamps on packets?

Ban the import and use of shisha products?

Fines and jail sentences for tobacco executives who fail to control their supply chain and Duty Free products ?

Licensing of tobacco retailers?

Mandatory prison sentences for buying duty-not-paid products?

Increased Tobacco Control Office staffing so they can actually patrol ?

Control on nicotine and tar content and ban flavorings ?

Ban the sale of flavored tobacco such as ‘Peel’ made by HK Tobacco Company Ltd whose owner remains the Protector of the Bauhinia Research Foundation, an arm of Govt ?

Mandate any structure with a roof as a no-smoking area such as parasols in OSA areas, exit of  airport arrivals areas? –  Smoking is banned

on escalators which have a roof but are not 50% enclosed – what’s the difference ?

Use excise revenue to fund anti tobacco measures instead of pouring more concrete ?

Fire your ‘Policy Bureau’

Do something!

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