WHO: China does good job of raising awareness of smoking risks

Xinhua, May 31, 2012

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it appreciates the Chinese health authority's recent report on the health risks of smoking and urged the country to take more action.

"This year marks a milestone in history, as the Ministry of Health released China's first official publication on the harms of smoking," the WHO said in a press release to Xinhua on Thursday, the World No Tobacco Day.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Wednesday issued a report on the health hazards of smoking, warning that more than 3 million Chinese would die of smoking-related illnesses annually by 2050 if no measures were taken.

This report should be seen in the context of the country's 12th Five-year Plan (2011-2015) that was endorsed last year and calls for smoke-free public spaces as part of the major national goal of increasing life expectancy, the WHO statement said.

Tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the world and in China. It kills nearly 6 million people worldwide each year, including more than 600,000 who die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

China is the largest tobacco-producing and -consuming country in the world, with more than 300 million smokers and another 740 million people exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the MOH report.

However, three-quarters of Chinese are not fully aware of the harms caused by smoking, and two-thirds do not know about the dangers of being exposed to second-hand smoke, the report said.

Every year in China, about 1 million people die from a tobacco-related heart attack, stroke, cancer, lung ailment or other disease, the WHO statement said.

"So far, 173 nations, including China, have pledged to work together to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). However, these tobacco control efforts are systematically opposed by the tobacco industry. We must fight back," Dr. Michael O'Leary, WHO Representative in China, said in the statement.

The WHO calls on governments and stakeholders worldwide to use the authority of the WHO FCTC to prevent interference on the part of the tobacco industry, the statement said.

"Now is the time for action, to prevent young people from starting to smoke, to help smokers to quit, and to resist the strategies of the tobacco industry to undermine the efforts of the Government and people of China to achieve healthier lives, free of tobacco," Dr. O'Leary said.

China signed the WHO FCTC and ratified it in 2005.

Over the past few years, the country has tried to curb smoking through banning smoking in hospitals and restaurants and limiting smoking scenes in films and TV.

Health departments across the country have also planned to set up professional hotlines offering smoking cessation counseling and to open up smoking cessation outpatient departments in hospital.