China can be described as a smokestack in more ways than one. Often used to describe its high pollution levels, the term could just as easily refer to the amount of smoke the country generates from cigarettes. The government has finally acknowledged that China has a smoking problem and is ready to take some serious measures to curb cigarette consumption.
During last week’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the government expressed concern over the nation’s addiction to cigarettes. With the world’s largest population of smokers – 350 million – one out of four mainlanders smokes (largely male). A recent study published by the China Preventive Medicine Association featured a jaw-dropping statistic: nearly 60% of the country’s doctors also smoke.
Ma Li, a deputy to the NPC, said on the sidelines of the top legislature’s annual meeting: “Should the current smoking prevalence continue, two million Chinese will die from, and six to eight million will suffer, tobacco-related diseases by 2030.” He urged the Ministry of Health to outline a five or 10-year-programme to keep tobacco production and sales under control, and gradually encourage tobacco growing areas to substitute other crops.
However, this is much easier said than done. First of all, cigarettes are cheap; Chinese cigarettes cost as little as 30 American cents a pack. Also, growing tobacco is far more lucrative compared to other crops. In Yunnan, where most of the tobacco is grown, farmers make 20 times more growing tobacco (than vegetable). Further complicating the matter, the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, the government body that is in charge of the country’s cigarette sales is also responsible for the new initiative to curb smoking. Problematically, the industry contributes 8% to the country’s tax revenue.
To quiet criticisms, the Chinese government banned cigarette advertising in newspapers, magazines and on television and radio (see WiC3). In Beijing, for instance, smoking is banned in most of its public places, including hotels, schools, cinemas, theatres and offices in May last year.
To capitalise on China’s newfound health awareness, GlaxoSmithKline, the British drug maker, has recently announced plans for a big marketing push in new markets such as China and India, says the Wall Street Journal. The company will be selling smoking cessation (i.e. quit smoking) gums and patches under various brand names, including NicoDerm CQ, Commit, NiQuitin and Nicabate.
But as it turns out, money may be the best incentive to help smokers kick the bad habit. In an effort to create a smoke-free environment, Beijing Chaoyang Hospital is awarding an anti-tobacco cash bonus for every employee who doesn’t smoke. According to Wang Chen, head of the institution, the scheme has been an astounding success.
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