Enforce ban on smoking

Updated: 2011-12-09 08:41

(China Daily)

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While the whole of society is talking about ways to stop people smoking, Beijing Capital International Airport recently reopened 12 out of the 36 smoking rooms in its three terminals after closing them for half a year following complaints from smokers.

China banned smoking in public places from Jan 9, as part of its commitments as a signatory to the World Health Organization's (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Yet despite this, smoking is still common in restaurants, work places, schools, hospitals and other public venues. Research by the NGO Green Beagles found that only 20 percent of surveyed restaurants in Beijing had banned smoking completely by mid 2011.

According to another survey by the Beijing municipal health authority, 51 percent of respondents said they were victims of secondhand smoke.

Statistics from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) show that the number of smokers in the country has remained at around 300 million, almost the same as in 2002. About 740 million nonsmokers are exposed to passive smoking, among which 72.7 percent are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places.

The major obstacle to smoking control in China is the State-owned tobacco industry. The tobacco industry contributed 498.9 billion yuan ($78.44 billion) to the State revenue in 2010, an increase of 21.2 percent year-on-year.

Such a robust growth means it is impossible for China to fulfill its obligations under the WHO's framework convention without reforming the tobacco industry and strengthening supervision of the industry.

While it is true that the tobacco industry is a big taxpayer, the gains from cigarette revenues are offset by the country's high costs in medical expenses and labor, and other social consequences related to smoking. Studies by the CCDC show that the net social benefits, that is the revenue from tobacco minus the healthcare costs of smoking-related diseases - have decreased significantly, from 150 million yuan in 1998 to minus 60 billion yuan in 2010. And the gap will widen further in the next 20 years.

Chinese lawmakers urgently need to draft and pass a law on smoking control. It is not only the basic requirement for China to fulfill its promises and obligations under the WHO framework convention, but would also serve as an opportunity to transform China's tobacco industry.

The government should also do more to enforce the ban on smoking in public places and provide the necessary assistance for smokers to overcome their addiction as they are the primary victims of the tobacco industry and getting people to quit their habit will also reduce the secondhand smoke that people are exposed to.