A smoke-free China is a healthy China
Deputies to the National People’s Congress, the top legislative body, and members of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, or the top political advisory body, from around the country have descended (or will soon descend) on the capital to participate in the annual “two sessions”. Since the Beijing local government passed the country’s strongest anti-smoking lawto date last year, visiting delegates will be able to enjoy a truly smoke-free environment in the city and during the course of the important discussions in the Great Hall of the People.
What better setting to kick off the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period and to push forward the “Healthy China” that the 13th Five-Year Plan calls for!
But there is so much more to do. At the end of 2015, there were an estimated 315 million smokers in China according to data released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a truly staggering number. But even more troubling is the fact that the overall number of smokers actually increased by 15 million during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2010-15) period.
Since at least half of all smokers die as a result of their habit, the fact that China’s addiction to tobacco is taking a dreadful toll on the country’s health is now self-evident. And Chinese smokers are hurting not only themselves, but through second-hand smoke they are also hurting their friends, family and others around them. China simply cannot be a healthy and productive society when the overall number of smokers is growing.
The startling fact that the overallnumberofsmokers is increasing by the millions every year should serve as awakeupcall toNPCdeputiesandCPPCCNationalCommittee membersthatmore— much, muchmore— needs to be done.
The firstandmostobvious step is to replicate the success of Beijing’ssmoke-free lawnationwide. Avery gooddraft national tobacco control lawhas beenonthe table at the State Council, China’s Cabinet, formorethan a year. Adoption of this law wouldbe a huge step forwardin support of the goal of a “HealthyChina”.
TheWorldHealth Organization callsonChinese leaders andlegislators to push itupthe priority listandget it passed.
The public supportsmoke-free public places. All available data suggest that theChinese peoplewouldstrongly support a lawmakingindoor public places 100 percentsmoke-free. It’s important here to say that the anti-smoking message from China’s FirstLadyPeng Liyuanandco-founder of Microsoft Bill Gateswaswidely circulatedonChinese socialmedia recently— that this particular imagewasso popular is a strong signal that there is public readiness for change.
NPCdelegatesandCPPCCNationalCommitteemembers are witnessing firsthand the benefits of asmoke-free environmentwhile in Beijing. Theyandthe people they represent should be able to enjoy thesamefreedom from second-hand smoke backhome.
Afirm foundation has been laid with recent victories in the fight against tobacco with the success of Beijing’s no-smoking law, last year’s tax increaseoncigarettes, andthe restrictions placedontobacco advertisement in the newAdvertisingLaw. Eachof thesewouldhave been unimaginable even five years ago; andall are significant achievements. But they are not enough— a“HealthyChina” needs a national no-smoking law.
The author isWHOrepresentative in China.