Anti-smoking feeling on the rise, but efforts still immature

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-9-20 22:26:51

I have been voluntarily engaged in tobacco control activities in China for more than two decades, during which time I have witnessed gradual positive changes in tobacco control efforts in this country. China has been long criticized for its failure in controlling smoking. But right now we're facing a good opportunity to spur on tobacco control.

Today's social awareness of the dangers of smoking is unprecedented. In past decades, there were few news reports about tobacco control, and the public didn't seem to care either. So it's both unexpected and pleasing that tobacco control-related news can stir up a public outcry in China nowadays.

In December 2011, Xie Jianping, then deputy director of the Zhengzhou Tobacco Research Institute, was named as an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), for his research in refining low-tar cigarettes. Public fume was soon sparked, and around 100 academicians wrote a joint letter to the academy, asking for the CAE's review of this appointment.

In April this year, the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration applied for the 2012 National Award for Science and Technology. Facing a chorus of opposition by health officials and public, the application was rejected.

Not long ago, the China National Tobacco Corporation received an award from the China Green Foundation for its "significant contribution to ecological protection." Anti-tobacco activists were outraged at the award, and the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control asked for the withdrawal of the award in a protest letter.

To the first and third cases, public anger remains unanswered yet. However, it is a positive signal that these cases have received nationwide attention, and practical actions were adopted to oppose the tobacco lobby.

Some private organizations in China have vigorously participated in tobacco control activities. And a few overseas organizations have also started to extend a hand through funding China's tobacco control organizations and projects. Recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the Red Cross Society of China to back the latter's efforts in improving tobacco control.

Countries which have controlled smoking have three things in common. First, officials and activists have taken the initiative in publicizing the harm of smoking and necessity of tobacco control. They themselves are pioneers in quitting smoking. Second, non-smokers, originally the "silent majority," become a main force in protesting second-hand smoking. And lastly, the government, vigorously responding to public appeals, curbs smoking through legislation and administrative methods.

These three conditions are still immature in China yet, despite soaring social awareness of tobacco control. Recently as a senior advisor for a tobacco control project launched by the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau, I've conducted a series of surveys in hospitals and community health service centers in suburban Beijing. According to the surveys, nearly 50 percent of male leaders of these hospitals and health service centers smoke, with 21 years of smoking on average.

These people should be setting a good example for smoking control. If they themselves are addicted to cigarettes, there is no way to convince the public to stay away from tobacco, not to mention setting up smoking control clinics at these hospitals and health service centers.

As public awareness of tobacco control rises, the government should seize the opportunity and make practical efforts. China does not need to start from scratch in controlling smoking. It should take into consideration China's special situation and where the prevention against tobacco control lies. But it can also resort to effective ways other countries have used to successfully curb smoking. 

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Chen Chenchen based on an interview with Gregory Yingnien Tsang, a social activist who has voluntarily engaged in tobacco control activities in China for more than 20 years.

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