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Underage smokers reach 15 million in China
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There are 15 million underage smokers in China and the number is rising, according to the 2008 report on tobacco control by the Ministry of Public Heath.

About 40 million of the country's 130 million children aged between 13 and 18 have tried smoking, about 60 million are exposed to the harms of secondhand smoke and 15 million are addicted to nicotine, the report said.

The number of youths that have tried smoking and who smoke increases annually. Male students are the main smokers among school children, and in big cities, the number of female students who have tried smoking or who smoke is increasing, the report said.

About 67 percent of those that had tried tobacco products did so before they were 13 years old, a 15 percent increase from 1998, according to the report.

China has about 350 million smokers, about a quarter of its population and one-third of the world's smokers. It is also the world's largest tobacco production and consumption country, the report said.

Tobacco adverts were partly to blame for the rising rate of young tobacco addicts because they target youths by associating smoking with independence and sex appeal, the report said.

Also, indirect advertisements, such as tobacco firms sponsoring sporting events, are three times more likely to influence children than adults, the report said.

Surveys on the relation between tobacco advertisements and tobacco consumption in 120 countries showed that tobacco consumption decreases sharply in countries where such advertisements are strictly banned, the ministry said in the report.

Smoking scenes in TV series or films were also blamed. The Beijing-based non-profit organization, the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, submitted a formal complaint to the State Administration of Radio Film and Television last July, criticizing TV series for showing too many scenes with characters smoking. Think Tank found that 36 percent of Chinese TV dramas made in the past two years showed actors smoking in an average of 30 scenes, with one appearing at an average interval of 12 minutes, according to the report.

A China Youth Daily report said yesterday that about 2 million people will die from tobacco related diseases every year after 2025, about half of whom will die between the ages of 35 and 69.

(Shanghai Daily July 17, 2008)

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