Cost of tobacco

BEIJING, Nov. 11 (Xinhuanet) — Tobacco research is a battlefield where cigarette producers and tobacco control researchers fight for funds.

Those intent on helping cigarette smokers quit the habit have to compete for funds with tobacco producers, and in such an unequal battle they are the losers almost all the time.

This is because the government departments such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Science and Technology, and National Natural Science Foundation don’t set aside funds for tobacco control research. The limited amount of money that is available for this purpose is in the hands of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, which controls tobacco production, marketing, imports and exports.

A researcher’s experience may illustrate the odd relations between tobacco producers and tobacco control researchers. Zhao Baolu, a research fellow with the Institute of Biophysics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, turned to the Beijing Cigarette Factory in 1988 for cooperation on a new kind of filter tip that would reduce the risks for smokers. Joining Zhao’s experiment, the tobacco producer put tea polyphenols, which are believed to suppress the carcinogens that cigarettes contain, into its new filter tips.

The cooperation, however, didn’t please Zhao. He found smokers smoked more because tea polyphenols make the cigarettes taste lighter.

Consequently Zhao concentrated his research on helping smokers quit. And the factory stopped funding him.

He then applied to the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration for money, which, not surprisingly, was unforthcoming as it was akin to asking a tiger for its skin.

Since then, the tobacco companies have continued to dispute, distort, minimize or ignore the unfolding evidence against smoking.

In 2010 the tobacco industry generated 604.55 billion yuan ($95 billion) in taxes and profit, a sum of money that is large enough to overcome even the government’s desire to control tobacco.

A non-governmental environmental organization investigated 51 restaurants in Beijing this week and found only 10 had banned smoking since May 1 when China banned smoking in all indoor public and work places.

The fact that most Chinese restaurants continue to be filled with tobacco smoke cannot be separated from the government’s weak regulations and abysmal law enforcement on tobacco use.

The overall effective tax rate of 40 percent on a packet of cigarettes in China is much lower than the international average, which ranges from 65 to 70 percent. Yet raising taxes and prices have proved to be the most effective means of reducing smoking.

The government needs to show the political will to take on the powerful tobacco industry and raise the cost of cigarettes.

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