Beijing needs to kick habit of relying on tobacco cash

  • Despite one million deaths on the mainland being attributed to smoking-related illnesses, the state-owned cigarette giant that fills government coffers still wants to increase sales
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 5:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 9:59pm

China National Tobacco Corp, which has a state monopoly of a harmful product, has just announced that it will meet its annual sales target this year of 6.1 billion or 0.2 per cent more cigarettes than last year. These are mostly for smoking in China, not for export. Unsurprisingly the mainland’s smoking rate, of about a third or 315 million of the adult population, is the highest in the world.

Meanwhile sales and consumption elsewhere are falling, under tougher health and environment laws, the weight of taxation and peer pressure. Just across the border in Hong Kong, for example, health authorities claim regular smokers now account for only 10 per cent of the population as a result of incremental falls over the years attributed to restrictions in public indoor and outdoor areas, higher taxes and education. That does not include a rise in consumption of e-cigarettes, which the government is talking of banning.

Smoking rates have been falling gradually for a long time in developed countries. But the mainland’s state-owned tobacco producer still wants to increase sales, going by a report in Beijing Youth Daily of its production achievements. This is despite about one million deaths a year being attributed to smoking-related illnesses. As Professor Cui Xiaobo of Beijing’s Capital Medical University told the South China Morning Post: “It’s really unbelievable.”

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Demand has been growing steadily. This is not to say that the government, a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, has not made any anti-smoking efforts, such as trying to curb smoking in public places in leading cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The implementation of an anti-tobacco law in 2015, banning smoking in indoor public places, is credited with a slight drop in the capital’s adult smoking population to 22.3 per cent, according to the Beijing Health Promotion Work Committee.

China National Tobacco’s sales are credited with generating up to 11 per cent of the country’s taxes. Beijing needs to snap its dependence on such tainted revenue. Before too long it would be more than compensated by savings in the national health bill of costs attributed to smoking-related illness.