In its 12th Five-Year Plan, China has promised to ban smoking in public places “in an all-around manner”.
This is the first time that China included an anti-smoking measure into its five-year plan.
The new five-year plan (2011-2015) was submitted to the annual session of China’s parliament for review Saturday.
The anti-smoking move was met with applause from experts.
“It is a big decision,” said Yue Bingfei, a member with the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and a research fellow with the National Institute for the Control of Pharmaceutical and Biological Products.
“China’s pace of anti-smoking had been rather slow, therefore the decision was not easy,” he said.
Wu Yiqun, an activist for an anti-smoking campaign and a deputy head for the non-governmental organization, Thinktank Research Center for Health Development, was encouraged by the “open declaration of the stance of the central government.”
“It means that anti-smoking would be the direction of China’s efforts in the next five years,” she said. “I hope the move could help China impose a 100-percent smoking ban in indoor public places and on public vehicles.”
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco.
“Smoking control is a big issue. It concerns the health and livelihood of the Chinese people,” said Yao Naili, a CPPCC National Committee member and the dean of the China Academy of the Chinese Medical Sciences.
He noted that China had more than 300 million smokers, and about 540 million people suffering from second-hand smoking.
“It’s like boiling a frog with warm water because it takes a long time for the lethal result to show,” he said.
According to Yao, more than 1 million people die from smoking-related diseases in China each year, with the number expected to double or even triple by 2030. If so, smoking would top the total number of deaths compared to AIDS, tuberculosis, traffic accidents and suicide.
Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed out that in 2005 about one-third of the people who died from smoking-related diseases were between 40 and 69.
“Behind the tragedies was the loss of labor in China,” she said.
China ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003. The treaty took effect in January 2006, requiring signatories to take recommended measures, such as a complete ban to cut tobacco use.
However, the country failed to fulfill its promise of a complete ban on smoking in indoor workplaces and public places this past January.
Wu Yiqun noted that one big problem was that China had no comprehensive law at the national level for smoking control. Some Chinese cities like Shanghai have smoking bans, but none of them have a total smoking ban in all enclosed public places and are, therefore, insufficient to protect non-smokers.
She also pointed out that the warning on cigarette packages is not explicit.
“On cigarette packs in many foreign countries there were horrible pictures like lungs or rotten toes of a smoker to demonstrate the harm caused by tobacco use, which would warn people to quit smoking. But in China the warning was weak,” she said.
She also suggested that the China Tobacco Corporation be separated from the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.
China Tobacco Corporation is China’s state tobacco monopoly and is also the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer. Tobacco revenue accounts for roughly 7 percent of the government’s tax income.
“If you want the administration to be responsible for smoking control, it would be like asking a fox to protect the chicken,” she said.
Instead, Yang Gonghuan suggested the establishment of an independent administration for smoking control.
Yue Bingfei has been paying attention to smoking control among teenagers for a long time. According to an earlier report, about 11.5 percent of Chinese juveniles smoke.
He hailed the circular from China’s film and television watchdog for cutting smoking scenes in films and TV dramas, advising that tobacco industries be banned from philanthropic activities such as sponsoring a school before naming it.
Despite the suggestion, people were generally optimistic, believing that the move to write a smoking ban into China’s five-year plan was a sign that more concern is being attached to the issue.
“Government policies are critical to changing the public’s attitude about tobacco use and making smoking socially unacceptable,” said Vince Willmore, vice president of a U.S.-based non-government organization called the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
He said that smoking was once common in the United States. But after public attitudes were changed and “the public learned about the deadly consequences of smoking and how tobacco companies mislead the public about the health risks of tobacco use, smoking rates were cut by more than half,” he said.