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Efforts to extinguish smoking hampered
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The fact that government ministries benefit from the tobacco industry while also controlling China's efforts to stamp out smoking is seriously hampering anti-smoking initiatives, lobbyists say.

Currently, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology leads national anti-smoking efforts. The same ministry also administers and represents the China Tobacco Monopoly Bureau and China National Tobacco Company.

"How can people count on administrations that are connected to the tobacco industry to take forceful action that will harm its own business? They have a conflict of interest," said Wang Ke'an, director of the grassroots anti-smoking organization Thinktank Research Center for Health Development.

Wang made the comment on Thursday at the launch of the report, Tobacco Control 2009 in China - A Civil Society Perspective.

Tobacco companies in China are all State-owned and are among the nation's major revenue streams.

Some poor rural areas of China are heavily dependent upon revenue from tobacco cultivation and cigarette production, adding to the reasons why the government might not be in a hurry to discourage smoking, Wang said.

China ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005 and has formally joined global efforts to reduce smoking.

But Yang Gonghuan, director of the Tobacco Control Office under the Chinese Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said a lot of the FCTC provisions have been poorly implemented.

To date, cigarette packets sold in mainland China do not carry graphic warnings about smoking-related health concerns, such as decaying teeth and blackened lungs.

And most Chinese bars and restaurants are still tolerant of smokers.

"The nation needs a tobacco control institution that is independent from tobacco industry involvement and intervention," said Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the Thinktank. "The tobacco industry should be cut off from politics and government."

Wu said the Ministry of Health (MOH) should be taking the lead in initiatives to control smoking because it has to deal with the high cost of China's love of cigarettes - tobacco kills 1.2 million Chinese each year and millions more need medical treatment for smoking-related illnesses. The MOH made a start in May when it ordered hospitals to eliminate smoking onsite by 2011.

Karl Fagerstrom, who heads the Smokers' Information Center in Helsingborg, Sweden, said the Chinese government, once it makes up its mind to cut smoking, will be able to make progress, and he urged the public to lobby the government for action.

(China Daily August 11, 2009)

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