Experts criticize tobacco control system

BEIJING, - The efficacy of China’s tobacco control system is under fire from experts who consider the industry does not take adequate supervision measures, an official of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday.

Chen Siyi, an anti-tobacco advocate from Thinktank Research Center for Health Development, said the situation had arisen because of the industry’s “notorious system”.

China’s tobacco industry supervisory administration, STMA, also known as the China National Tobacco Corporation, represents tobacco companies and has an interest in their profits.

“Given these special conditions, it is hard for the STMA to cut supply or take measures to fulfill China’s pledge to control smoking,” Chen said.

“Deputies to the National People’s Congress have suggested supervisory administration be separated from the one responsible for profit, but has received no positive answers from tobacco interests,” Yang Gonghuan, vice president of China CDC said.

MEASURES TAKEN

China, the world’s largest tobacco producer and consumer, signed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003.

The convention took effect in China in 2006, and China promised to unconditionally control tobacco for its people’s health.

Government organizations have already done some work to implement the convention, said Wu Yiqun, vice executive director of the research center.

Among these, the Shanghai World Expo rejected a 200-million yuan tobacco sponsorship in July and the ministry of Civil Affairs had removed six tobacco companies last December from the candidates for the China Charity Award, the country’s top charity award.

The Finance Ministry and the State Administration of Taxation have also increased taxes on tobacco products, but many netizens are challenging that effort by saying that they can choose cheaper cigarettes, according to China website portal Sohu.com.

But the experts consider STMA’s anti-smoking efforts are far from adequate.

According to the Framework Convention, results of smoking must be clearly stated on cigarette and tobacco packets, and health warnings in words and pictures should take up no less than 30 percent of the package area.

But the STMA had failed to supervise Chinese tobacco groups in this aspect, Wu said. “Words on packets in China have hardly any warning effect.”

“The words are small and some are even in English, and many Chinese smokers don’t understand them,” she said.

Experts say they believed the STMA feared shocking warning pictures of tobacco’s effects on packets would reduce sales and harm their profits.

GRAVE CONDITION

China’s cigarette production soared from 1,873. 6 billion since 2004 to 2,219.9 in 2008 and it maintains a yearly growth rate of 10 percent.

About one million people in China have already died of tobacco-related diseases including lung cancer, throat cancer, coronary heart disease and strokes and two million would die from smoking by 2050, if the situation does not improve, experts said.

Last year at a conference in South Africa, China received an ashtray from the WHO, which sarcastically implied China’s passiveness in smoking control.

“We have a long way to go to control smoking as STMA’s acts have undermined anti-smoking efforts,” said Huang Jianshi, professor of Peking Union Medical College.

“We hope the central government will set up an independent watchdog for China’s tobacco industry.

Anti-smoking efforts may be more effective then,” Huang said.

Xinhua called the tobacco corporation to ask its opinions on the suggestion, but there was no reply.

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