China publishes its anti-smoking plan



China on Friday published a plan to reduce the world's largest population of smokers as part of a 2005 treaty, without implementing recommendations such as warning labels that include photos of rotten teeth and diseased lungs.

China plans to cut the number of smokers to 25 percent of the population by 2015 from 28.1 percent in 2010, according to the plan published by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology Friday, seven years after the country signed the treaty that recommends the graphic warning labels.

The government will "comprehensively" prohibit smoking in public places and ban ads, promotion and sponsorship by tobacco companies, according to the plan. There is no mention of tax rates in the plan.

China has more than 300 million smokers, including half the adult male population, and about 740 million people are exposed to second-hand smoke risks, the ministry said. The tobacco industry accounts for 20 million jobs and contributed 6 percent of fiscal revenues in 2010, the ministry said.

"The plan carries a heavy smell of cigarettes," Wu Yiqun, a director at the Beijing-based ThinkTank Research Center for Health Development. "It's a compromise result between the tobacco industry and the Health Ministry, and it seems the tobacco side has the upper hand." The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration was involved in the plan's preparation.

Wu, a former deputy director at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, singled out the lack of graphic photos as a weakness. Australia, Canada and most European Union members have introduced such warnings or have agreed to do so, according to the World Health Organization website.

"It means China's tobacco control efforts will be weak compared to mainstream international practices," Wu said. The lack of any plan to increase taxes on tobacco is another weakness, she said.

The WHO recommended in March that China should almost triple excise taxes on tobacco products to 70 percent from 26 percent, to dissuade young people from taking up the habit. Half of the country's smokers spend 5 yuan (80 cents) or less for a packet of 20 cigarettes, the WHO said.

Smoking, which is linked to 1 million deaths a year in China, is endangering the labor force, Health Minister Chen Zhu said in April.

Using cigarettes as gifts or gestures of friendship is still a popular practice in the country, and many poor regions rely on the industry to generate jobs and fiscal revenue, the industry ministry said.

Cigarette production and consumption in China both increased by 3 percent last year, according to data from Bloomberg Industries. China's share of world cigarette consumption increased to 40 percent last year from 35 percent in 2006. Consumption in the rest of the world has declined steadily since 2000.

The brother of Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang should be removed from his post as a top official in China's state-owned tobacco monopoly to avoid conflicts of interest, according to a report published by the Washington-based Brookings Institution in October. Li last month took the No.2 position in China's new leadership and is now oversees public health.

China's new tobacco plan was jointly prepared by the ministries of industry, health, finance and foreign affairs; and the general administrations of tobacco, customs, safety and industry and commerce.

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