BEIJING // Most smokers in China, the world’s largest tobacco consumer, have no intention of kicking the habit and remain unaware of some of its most damaging health effects, Chinese health officials and outside researchers said on Wednesday.
An estimated 316 million people smoke in China, almost a quarter of the population, and concerns are growing about the long-term effects on public health and the economy.
The vast majority of smokers are men, of whom 59 per cent told surveyors that they have no plans to quit, according to a decade-long study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and Canadian researchers with the International Tobacco Control project.
Such numbers have prompted efforts to restrict the formerly ubiquitous practice. Major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have recently moved to ban public smoking, with Shanghai’s prohibition going into effect in March. In 2015, the central government approved a modest nationwide cigarette tax increase.
But Chinese and international health officials argue that more is needed, including a nationwide public smoking ban, higher cigarette taxes and more aggressive health warnings.
Such actions are “critically important”, Yuan Jiang, director of tobacco control for the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, said.
A public smoking ban appeared imminent last year. The government health ministry said in December that it would happen by the end of 2016, but that has yet to materialise.
“They have to figure out what’s important as a health policy,” said Geoffrey Fong of Canada’s University of Waterloo, one of the authors of the study. “Every third man that you pass on the street in China will die of cigarettes ...When you have cheap cigarettes, people will smoke them.”
* Associated Press