China has announced it will raise tobacco taxes to help protect children from smoking.
The move would mean young people are less likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke, according to National Health and Family Planning Commission vice director Cui Li.
“[We] will adopt comprehensive measures, including raising tax on tobacco products, to keep minors away from the hazards of cigarettes or being exposed to second-hand smoke and let them grow up healthily,” she said according to Xinhua.
Cui announced the measure yesterday as Beijing moves to endorse Saturday’s World No Tobacco Day which has a theme of “Raise Tobacco Tax, Lower Death and Disease”.
China is the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer and consumer, with more than 300 million smokers, according to national statistics. Some 740 million people, including 180 million children, are affected by secondary smoke.
Twenty per cent of junior middle school students, aged from 13 to 15, have used tobacco at some point, according to a national survey done by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention released yesterday. More than 155,000 students from 1,020 junior middle schools, chosen from 336 cities and counties across the country, participated in the survey.
A report based on a survey carried out late last year shows that 30 per cent of current smokers are tobacco-dependent and for every 10 current student smokers, seven students tried to stop smoking in the past year, but failed to give up.
Nearly three quarters of junior middle school students on the mainland were exposed to tobacco smoke at home, public places or public transport during the seven days prior to the survey.
Some 11 per cent of students saw their teachers smoking indoors at school almost every day, and a further 10 per cent said they saw teachers smoke outdoors at school almost every day, according to the survey which is the China part of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey spearheaded by the World Health Organisation.
Among current cigarette smokers who bought cigarettes, 80 per cent were not refused because of their age, although signs saying “do not sell cigarettes to minors” are hung on walls of many stores.
The legal age to buy cigarettes on the mainland is 18.
Dr Bernhard Schwartlander, WHO representative in China, told a Tuesday press briefing that raising tobacco tax is a win-win measure, benefiting people’s health as well boosting economic development. He said it was the single most effective measure the authorities can take to reduce death, disease, and future economic harm caused by tobacco.
China signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, but missed the deadline to honour it by 2011. The country has made little progress in reducing use of tobacco due to the ingrained smoking culture and resistance from the tobacco industry which generates huge taxes.
The mainland’s health authority aims to roll out a nationwide smoking ban in public places by the end of the year. So far some major mainland cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Qingdao and Hangzhou, have banned smoking in most indoor public venues, but most perpetrators were warned instead of fined.