Experts call for smoke-free China

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Experts said China should boost tobacco-control efforts so it can fulfill its pledge to the World Health Organization to ban smoking in indoor public places by January.

"There's a lot to be done to live up to our promise to the World Health Organization. Most fundamentally, we need a detailed national tobacco-control plan for governments at all levels across the country to act on," Huang Jinrong, associate researcher of the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua Sunday.

China committed itself to creating an indoor smoke-free environment within five years after the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHOFCTC) came into effect in China on Jan. 9, 2006.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said by the end of 2006, nearly half of China's 337 large- and medium-sized cities had regulations to restrict smoking in public areas.

In 2010, Shanghai and Guangzhou announced bans on smoking in public working areas.

Huang Jinrong has called for a national tobacco-control plan to ensure the implementation of local laws.

"We are glad to see local laws for tobacco control. But they are hard to implement without national regulation," he said.

With 350 million smokers, China is home to one third of the world's smoking population. Statistics from the China CDC show smoking is linked to the deaths of at least 1 million people in China every year while around 530 million people are affected by second-hand smoke.

Jiang Yuan, a deputy director of the China CDC, said the country faces the difficulty of meeting its pledge to the WHOFCTC.

"Many don't really know the harm caused by smoking and second-hand smoke," she said.

The tobacco industry in China employs half-a-million people. As the world's largest tobacco producer, China has to protect its economy while realizing its tobacco-control promise to the world, said Jiang.

Jiang said smoking-triggered medical costs and environmental pollution exceed tobacco industry revenues.

According to the WHO, 168 countries have ratified the WHO tobacco control treaty, and 17 of the signatories, including France and Canada, have 100-percent indoor smoking bans in public places.

In China, smoking was recently banned inside the Chinese Health Ministry's 19-story office building -- the first central government ministry to take such a measure.

"Personally, I am not satisfied with what we have done to tackle the smoking problems in China," Jiang said.

"We have to create a smoke-free environment so Chinese people can avoid smoking-related diseases."

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