Health concerns go up in smoke in China: World Non-Smoking Day is a non-starter in Yunnan, reports Teresa Poole from Kunming

AT THE Kunming cigarette factory in Yunnan province, there is a German machine that rolls 6,000 cigarettes a minute. It is an awesome sight, compared with the antiquated machinery to be found in many of China's state enterprise factories. The factory manager, Chen Chuanbai, has none of the problems of other state industry bosses whose unwanted products languish in warehouses. Yunnan, the premier tobacco province of China, makes 265 billion cigarettes a year and still cannot meet demand. This is just as well in one respect; Yunnan is a very poor region and the provincial government relies on tobacco taxes for four-fifths of its total revenues.

Today is World Non- Smoking Day but it is unlikely to make much impact in Yunnan. Mr Chen's main preoccupations at the moment are the opening of an even more modern production line, and boosting exports, which account for only a tiny proportion of output. He shows off one of the factory's brands, Sanchi, which is targeted at Japanese women.

'Firstly these cigarettes can treat bronchitis,' he says. 'Also the packaging is quite fashionable which will enable these ladies to look smart. We got a professional doctor who has a PhD to study Sanchi, and he concluded that it really offers very good treatment for people's health. Especially it can give slow treatment for bronchitis.'

In Peking, Dr Zhang Yifang, the vice-president of the Association on Smoking and Health, faces a considerable challenge. China is the world's biggest manufacturer and seller of tobacco; in 1993, 1.6 billion cigarettes were sold in China to its 300 million smokers. According to Dr Zhang, 60 per cent of men over 15 years old, and 9 per cent of women are smokers.

The numbers are rising, with the most marked increases among women and teenagers. Smoking is already the country's biggest killer, and Dr Zhang reckons that if it is not reduced, by the year 2030 there will be 3.17 million smoking-related deaths a year.

For Dr Zhang there are too many Goliaths to slay. The tobacco industry is the biggest single earner for central government tax coffers and last year contributed a total 41bn yuan ( pounds 3.4bn). Secondly, smoking is culturally and socially ingrained in the Chinese way of life and economic reform has only increased the attraction of a cigarette packet as a status symbol. Finally, China is viewed by Western cigarette manufacturers, who face ever stricter health and cultural pressures on their home turf, as the world's most attractive potential market.

China's tobacco industry is still a state monopoly, but it is the activities and promotions of foreign companies that concern the anti-smoking lobby the most. Last year, for instance, Philip Morris, whose Marlboro Man stares down from billboards across China, signed an agreement with the state China National Tobacco Corp to manufacture and sell cigarettes in China.

On paper, China has strict laws on smoking: cigarette packets must carry a health warning; advertisements are banned on television, radio and in the print media; and there is even a 1989 regulation that bans or limits smoking in public places.

In practice, billboards are the main vehicle for advertising, sponsorship and the use of brand-names often get around the restrictions on direct advertising, and everyone smokes everywhere, encouraged by the ubiquitous smokers in Chinese-made films and television programmes.

In Yunnan, where long- term health costs take second place to short-term budget considerations, Mr He says: 'In the domestic market, supply is still short of demand. We also want to reduce prices of the best brands. Basically, our aim is to try to produce more volume, and cut prices.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Affiliates & Partnerships

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This multi-award winning foreig...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor