Anti-smoking campaign requires more than bans

By Zhao Yashan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-27 18:53:01

Local media have reported that local smoking bans have run into problems and seem to be less than effective. Smoking still happens in half of the city's public places.

Shanghai is one of the few cities that launched a local smoking ban four years ago, when there was still no national regulation in effect. But it remains easy to find smokers in restaurants, hotels, schools and hospitals, where ashtrays sometimes sit near some "No Smoking" signs.

The problem is not only here in Shanghai, but also across the country.  

The anti-smoking campaign has been a long battle in China, which has the largest number of smokers in the world. China's more than 300 million smokers contributed more than 1.65 trillion yuan ($268 billion) in profit for China Tobacco in 2012, according to National Audit Office. But more than 700 million people are exposed to secondhand smoke. According to the World Health Organization's World Cancer Report 2014, one-third of global deaths from lung cancer occur in China.

Despite the health problems tobacco causes, the Chinese government benefits greatly from the industry through the massive tax revenues that tobacco companies generate. Still, the government has taken strides to cut down on the country's smoking rate.

In 2003, China signed the international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. But it came into effect in 2006. Article 13 of the agreement clearly requires participating countries to "eliminate tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship effectively at both domestic and international levels." But China failed to implement many of the requirements by 2011, forcing the World Health Organization last year to place China behind many developing countries in terms of tobacco control, including Egypt, Thailand and Vietnam.

Three years later, China's State Council seems determined to fight against smoking. It released a draft of an anti-tobacco regulation this week. The proposed rules ban all forms of tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion. And also for the first time, China would ban smoking in all indoor places. Cigarette manufacturers will also have to include health warnings on their packaging.

As a passive secondhand smoker, I'm more than happy to hear the news. However, it's always easy to say, hard to do. Tobacco control still faces many problems. For example, it's unrealistic to ban cigarette companies from advertising themselves. Although TV advertising and sponsorship is prohibited, those companies have turned to building Hope elementary schools. "Talent comes from hard work - Tobacco helps you become talented" is the slogan of a Sichuan tobacco Hope elementary school, which got financial support from tobacco companies after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. China Tobacco also donated money to drought-stricken Yunnan Province, with 500,000 yuan and 90,000 yuan going to the Red Cross association in Guangzhou, according to its official website.

So they turn to donating money to people who are really in need. It's a tricky and controversial issue. The tobacco companies help society, but they also plant their brands and slogans into people's minds, especially those of the next generation's. At the same time, schools, activity organizers and other institutions need sponsorship from wealthy cigarette companies. Under this arrangement, both the cigarette companies and their beneficiaries have something to gain. 

So the responsibility naturally falls on the government. The government has made a great move in tobacco control. Although the tobacco industry is State-owned and has contributed trillions of tax money to the country, the government has finally decided to rein it in, starting by "cutting the meat from its body."

However, prohibition shouldn't be the only way to lower smoking rates. The government should still organize more anti-smoking campaigns to raise awareness at both the local and national levels.

Posted in: Society, TwoCents

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