China is paying a high price for its smoking habit. The medical costs of its 350 million smokers far exceed the revenues collected from its biggest taxpayer, the tobacco industry. Authorities are clearly torn about what to do - they have promised to implement international standards in seven months, but have not even got around to tabling the legislation. The nation will continue to suffer as long as the ministry in charge of tobacco production is also responsible for control. There is no denying the consequences. One million mainlanders die each year from smoking-related illnesses, and hundreds of millions more are affected by second-hand smoke. Rising affluence means that more are taking up the habit, particularly women. Health officials predict the annual death toll will be 2 million in a decade. The UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which the mainland signed in 2003, came into effect five years ago. Under its provisions, advertising is to be banned, consumption tax raised and smoking in public places outlawed. But the initial target of January 9 next year for an indoor ban is not likely to be met, as the proposal still has not been added to the legislative agenda. There seems little appetite to do so - the top-level support needed is lacking. Warnings on cigarette packets are smaller than the World Health Organisation designates. With the male smoking population at saturation level, tobacco companies are enticing women with advertising campaigns and products that fly in the face of the convention's aims. The firms would seem to be able to operate as they wish. And there is nothing stopping them while the government branch empowered to enact the rules, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, is the same body that takes care of the industry's interests. Countless studies have shown that a nation's health and welfare suffer from smoking. Beijing yearly takes in 500 billion yuan (HK$569 billion) in tobacco tax and the industry keeps hundreds of thousands in work. The benefits may seem worthwhile to officials, but the growing consequences plainly show China has to be weaned off its bad habit.