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January 19, 2010

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Cities join forces over smoking ban

SEVEN Chinese cities are aiming to start a tobacco-free program to halt the dangers from passive smoking, especially to pregnant women and children, health officials and experts said yesterday.

Experts and representatives from Shanghai, Wuxi, Ningbo, Changsha, Luoyang, Tangshan and Qingdao, have gathered in Beijing for a three-day workshop to present their plans for the program which would ban smoking in any indoor area at any time.

Shanghai, China's financial center, aims to reduce the rate of pregnant women's exposure to secondhand smoke by 10 percent, Li Xinjian, a Shanghai Health Bureau official, told the workshop.

"By avoiding secondhand smoke at home, which is the biggest smoke exposure, we will continue to raise smokers' awareness of the harm or even help them quit smoking," Li said.

The program is being sponsored by the Emory Global Health Institute (GHI) of the United States, and ThinkTank Research Center for Health Development (TTH), a nonprofit institution in China.

World's largest

China has more than 300 million smokers, the world's largest number, with more than 2 trillion cigarettes sold in the country every year. More than 500 million people are exposed to secondhand smoke, mostly at home, in public places and offices.

It took the US 50 years to reach its target of smoke-free cities, while Hong Kong strived for 20 years to reach that goal.

"It will not be overnight for China to realize the goal," said Jeffrey Koplan, director of GHI. "But it can happen, and it is just a matter of how quickly it happens."

China signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003 and the country's top legislature ratified it in 2005.

The country's health authorities have asked all medical administrations, hospitals and disease control centers to impose total bans by 2011.

Shanghai's 2010 World Expo turned down a 200-million-yuan (US$29.3 million) sponsorship deal from a tobacco company in July 2009.


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