China is the world’s largest consumer of tobacco.
The country’s more than 350 million smokers — more than the population of the United States — consume about 30 percent of all cigarettes worldwide.
Hundreds of millions more suffer from the ill effects of second-hand smoke, which only adds to the economic price tag of the habit.
The price tag for three types of diseases caused by smoking - cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease - among people aged 35 and older is at least 223.72 billion yuan.
That’s equal to 1 percent of China’s GDP, according to a national survey conducted in 2008.
That’s the direct cost of smoking in deaths and lost productivity.
According to the same survey, the indirect costs such as clinical treatment added up to 39.08 billion.
“It is urgent that we begin a tough tobacco-control campaign and take various measures to support smoking cessation,” said Mao Zhengzhong, vice-president of the Chinese Society of Public Health and a professor at Sichuan University’s Huaxi Public Health Institute.
Mao’s study found that for China’s smokers, the average daily consumption per capita is 14.8 cigarettes at a cost of 2.73 yuan.
More than half of China’s population suffers the damaging health effects of second-hand smoke, Mao added.
The Ministry of Finance and the State Administration of Taxation on June 20 announced a new series of cigarette taxes.
Taxes on cartons of cigarettes costing 70 yuan or more increased from 45 percent to 56 percent.
Taxes on cartons costing less than 70 yuan increased from 30 percent to 36 percent.
An ad valorem tax, based on the real value (less inflation) of the product, was also introduced at an additional 5 percent added to the cost of cigarettes.
“The policy will not only help increase fiscal revenues, but also act as an incentive to encourage smoking cessation,” Mao said.
The World Bank estimated that a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes in developing countries will translate, on average, into an 8 percent drop in cigarette consumption.
Higher prices prove especially effective among more price-sensitive consumers such as teenagers, the World Bank reported.
Xiao Dan, an expert on tobacco use and cessation for the Health Cooperation Center of the World Health Organization, said, smoking cessation products also can help reduce smoking rates.
Smoking involves nicotine dependence, which can be treated with a combination of medicines and psychological therapy, she said.
Savvy pharmaceutical companies already are cashing in on the stop-smoking business.
US-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc introduced Champix, a smoking cessation product, to China in late 2008.
Alaster Allum, regional director of Pfizer’s Medical Affairs Department, said the medicine was designed to help ease the transition to being a non-smoker.
Allum explained that when a smoker inhales, nicotine is transferred to the brain, along with dopamine, a stimulant. Champix uses dopamine, but it is not addictive like nicotine, he said.
“Champix can keep the dopamine at a mild level, helping smokers not feel as bad as they kick their dependence on nicotine,” Allum said.
Other foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers also are eyeing the massive smoking cessation market in China.
Swiss drug maker Novartis AG recently introduced its anti-smoking patch, Nicotinell, in China.
US-based Johnson & Johnson reportedly will soon introduce its smoking cessation gum to China.
The two products from Novartis and Johnson & Johnson are classified as nicotine-replacement therapy by the medical sector.
In recent years, some domestic companies also have developed stop-smoking aids using traditional Chinese methods such as acupuncture and massage.
Both Mao and Xiao suggested that smoking addicts seek professional medical help to kick the habit. They also praised smoking cessation hotlines as effective resources to find medical and psychological help.
The two called on China’s government officials to add smoking cessation medicines to the country’s drug reimbursement list.
Smoking, the two said, wastes valuable social and economic resources.
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