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Lawmakers urge stepped-up measures on tobacco control

LAWMAKERS are pressing for tighter tobacco control to reduce smoking prevalence in China, where a quarter of the population are smokers.

The country should initiate a tobacco-control program as soon as possible to cut down tobacco supplies and demand, and protect people's health, Ma Li, a deputy to the National People's Congress, said on the sidelines of the top legislature's annual meeting.

China now has more than 350 million smokers, more than 26 percent of its total population, said Ma, also director of the China Population and Development Research Center.

With annual sales of 2 trillion cigarettes, China is the world's largest cigarette market.

"Should the current smoking prevalence continue, 2 million Chinese will die from, and 6 to 8 million will suffer, tobacco-related diseases by 2030," Ma said.

China joined the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005, but has never had a national program for tobacco control, Ma said.

"Tobacco control in China is of great importance to the endeavour in the whole world," Ma said. "The country should initiate a national control program to fulfill its commitment to the FCTC and to safeguard the health of the Chinese people."

Ma urged the Ministry of Health to outline a five or 10-year program to keep tobacco production and sales under control, and gradually encourage tobacco growing areas to shift to crop substitution.

Ma also suggested relevant authorities make a public report once a year on the country's tobacco control progress.

Lagging progress

Ma's concern over the lagging progress of tobacco control was shared by NPC deputy Wang Longde, head of the China Preventive Medicine Association.

"Nearly half of China's male health workers smoke; cigarette packets sold in China bear only minimum warning slogans or pictures; and it is common practice to give cigarettes as gifts. All these are making tobacco control a pressing job," Wang said.

A survey conducted by China's National Tobacco Control Office found 70 percent of Chinese people do not know about the danger smoking poses to health, which includes heart, lung, respiratory and stomach diseases.

Wang said he had advised the NPC to set up laws on tobacco regulation as soon as possible.

"I am not alone on this," Wang said, "Many other NPC deputies have also made these suggestions."

Shi Zuolin and Huang Xihua are two of them. Shi, dean of Fujian Provincial Healthcare Hospital for Women and Children, said the country should set up a law which forbids smoking in public areas.

Huang, from Guangdong Province, urged producers to print striking warning pictures, for instance, one of a smoker with throat cancer, on cigarette packaging.

China has already seen some progress in tobacco control in recent years. Beijing banned smoking in most of its public places, including hotels, schools, cinemas, theaters and offices in May last year. Smoking in the city's taxis was also banned.


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