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Revise Tobacco Control Program

China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-13 07:14

We read with excitement the Tobacco Control Program (2012-15), published by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and seven other government ministries and departments in December last year. As the first tobacco control master plan for the entire country, it shows how committed the highest authorities are to addressing the endemic problem of tobacco use in China. It is a step in the right direction, and sets the tone and pace for tobacco control in the country.

Because it is such an important document, there is need to ensure that the objective of controlling tobacco can be achieved. As academics who have been involved in tobacco control research in China and other countries for over two decades, we would like to offer two perspectives which, in our opinion, are critical to the success of a tobacco control program in the country.

First, we find it ironic that the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration is among the eight ministries and departments that drew up the national plan. The STMA's objective is to strengthen and improve the tobacco industry. Such a role conflicts with the objective of the Tobacco Control Program, and brings into question the effectiveness of such a national blueprint.

With the STMA being part of the program, the measures proposed in the national plan can only be half-hearted and often reflect what would be protective for the industry instead of the health of the nation. We, therefore, advocate that the national plan be revised without the STMA's participation.

Second, the master plan should make better use of the increase in tobacco tax, long considered the most effective of tobacco control measures. The current tobacco tax rate in China is about 40 percent. It is low by international standards, which is about two-thirds to four-fifths of the retail price.

Admittedly, the tobacco tax rates were adjusted in 2009 at the producer- and wholesale-price level, and the national plan considered such adjustments significant. However, there was a rider that such tax adjustments need not be linked to the retail price of cigarettes.

As shown in market studies on retail price of cigarettes, conducted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, after the 2009 tobacco tax adjustments, the resulting tax increase was not reflected in the retail price of cigarettes at all.

Our studies have shown that a 1-yuan increase in cigarette tax that is reflected in the retail price would increase government revenue by 85 billion yuan ($13.66 billion) a year. Higher retail price of cigarettes will also result in a reduced consumption, save millions of lives and improve the lives of many more.

We suggest that the Tobacco Control Program make use of this very important tool of cigarette taxation, specify that the increase in tax must be reflected in the retail price and set a timeline for the introduction of such measures.

The 2013 Global Risks Report published by the World Economic Forum cites the rising rate of chronic diseases as one of the risks posed by smoking. Smoking-related illnesses are the most preventable of all chronic diseases. The pace and effectiveness of China's tobacco control program will affect the lives of more than 300 million smokers and over 700 million people who suffer from passive smoking. The Tobacco Control Program, while a very significant master plan, should take bolder steps to achieve the goal of tobacco control.

Hu Teh-wei, Mao Zhengzhong

Hu Teh-wei is professor emeritus of health economics, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, and Mao Zhengzhong is former professor of health economics, Sichuan University. Via e-mail

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(China Daily 03/13/2013 page10)

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