OPINION> Chen Weihua
More guts but no more lip service
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-12-20 07:52

Ask a chain smoker to kick the butt, and in all probability he'll tell you he's tried quitting a hundred times before.

That's one of the reasons I wonder how the Shanghai Municipal Office on Tobacco hopes to pull off its plan to extend the smoking ban from public places to all indoor workplaces.

Just like all previous efforts and rules on tobacco control, the office didn't exactly say how it was planning to achieve the goal, or who was going to effectively enforce it. Or is it just another New Year resolution, like the one smokers make every year ?

Over the years, Shanghai has pledged numerous times to prohibit smoking in public places. Yet, we find smokers casually puffing away even inside the city's hospitals

In fact, a large majority of male doctors in Shanghai and other parts of the country are smokers. It doesn't really reflect well, considering people actually think of doctors as role models when it comes to health.

At the same time, almost none of the city's government buildings are smoke-free, despite the Minister of Health Chen Zhu and another 100 experts pleading the governments to take the lead in banning smoking in workplaces last year.

No wonder these half-hearted efforts in outlawing smoking and fulfilling the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), ratified by China in 2005, won the country the infamous Dirty Ashtray Award at the WHO tobacco control conference held in Durban, South Africa. It was an award for making a mockery of FCTC guidelines, including preferring better packaging of cigarettes to the health of its citizens.

If you look at the colorful packets of cigarettes all around you in stores across the country, you'll know we rightly deserved the award.

None of the packets come with warning labels, such as decaying teeth or blackened lungs. Even the mandatory warning words are often too small to be noticed.

Tobacco is still being advertised. Only now, the advertisements are disguised. The advertisers found convenient loopholes in the regulations.

Bars and restaurants remain a paradise for smokers, and hell for nonsmokers - passive smoking has affected the lives of about 540 million Chinese.

In their so-called fight against this grave epidemic, we haven't really seen the governments showing real guts. This, despite the fact that 1 million of the 350 million Chinese smokers die of related diseases each year - more than the number of deaths caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and traffic accidents combined.

Just days before the authorities in Shanghai vowed to ban smoking in all indoor workplaces, the State-run Shanghai Tobacco Factory broke ground for an expansion project for its Chung Hwa cigarettes.

Nationwide, some 60 billion yuan ($8.78 billion) will be invested in the tobacco industry over the next few years to boost production, according to the 21st Century Business Herald.

It is just another sign of how our governments are addicted to tobacco taxes and profits, which totaled a whopping 380 billion yuan in 2007.

People are spending an even larger amount trying to get treated for various smoking-related diseases.

Ironically, both are spurring the country's GDP growth, albeit, in a malicious way.

It's heart-aching to see that as we mark 30 years of successful reform and opening-up, we are losing the war on tobacco.

Our country has displayed a lot of courage, taking on tough challenges over the past three decades. Now, it is high time we showed real guts to stub out the cigarette.


(China Daily 12/20/2008 page4)