Mi­nors go­ing on­line to buy smokes

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By XIN­HUA in Shenyang

On­line shop­ping is emerg­ing as a new chal­lenge to to­bacco con­trol, as more young peo­ple are us­ing the In­ter­net to cir­cum­vent age re­stric­tions and pur­chase cig­a­rettes.

Z h ang Yu n l ong , a 16- year- old from Shenyang, Liaon­ing prov­ince, ad­mit­ted he is a chain smoker.

“I’ve been smok­ing for more than two years and have been buy­ing cig­a­rettes on­line for one year,” he said.

Zhang said it takes him only a few min­utes to com­plete his on­line pur­chases.

“Own­ers of on­line stores don’t care if you are an adult or ado­les­cent. You only need to pay the money and they will de­liver the cig­a­rettes to you,” Zhang said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion for To­bacco Con­trol, more than 20,000 ven­dors are sell­ing cig­a­rettes on Taobao.com, China’s largest on­line shop­ping site.

Chi­nese law stip­u­lates that those who pro­duce or sell cig­a­rettes need spe­cial li­censes to do so. Most on­line stores skirt this reg­u­la­tion by claim­ing to be sell­ing cig­a­rette pack­ag­ing.

“No one would be­lieve that a cig­a­rette pack­age would cost more than 100 yuan ($ 16). Stores sell­ing pack­ag­ing are ac­tu­ally sell­ing cig­a­rettes,” said an on­line ven­dor sur­named Lin.

A sur­vey car­ried out by the as­so­ci­a­tion at 30 schools in Bei­jing and He­nan prov­ince showed that four out of 10 mid­dleschool stu­dents have pur­chased cig­a­rettes.

More teenagers are buy­ing cig­a­rettes on­line not only to avoid ques­tion­ing from their par­ents, but also be­cause of their low prices. A car­ton of Chungh­wabrand cig­a­rettes costs 980 yuan in most con­ven­tional stores, but can be pur­chased on­line for just 150 yuan.

Some of the low-priced cig­a­rettes be­ing sold on­line are re­cy­cled gifts or ex­pired, while oth­ers are coun­ter­feit, Lin said.

Zhang Li, di­rec­tor of the pul­monary health depart­ment of a hos­pi­tal in Shenyang, said teenagers’ bod­ies are not fully de­vel­oped, mean­ing smok­ing can do more harm to their bod­ies.

Au­thor­i­ties have largely been un­suc­cess­ful in con­trol­ling to­bacco in China.

With China’s on­line pop­u­la­tion con­tin­u­ing to grow, it is likely that on­line to­bacco sales will also in­crease in the fu­ture.

“On­line cig­a­rette sales are part of il­le­gal to­bacco trad­ing and may cause tax rev­enues from le­gal cig­a­rette sales to de­crease. The national to­bacco bureau should crack down on un­li­censed on­line sales,” said Yi Tianx­i­ang, a lawyer from Tian­jin.

“Re­frain­ing from sell­ing cig­a­rettes to young peo­ple is not just a slo­gan,” said Yang Gonghuan, for­mer deputy di­rec­tor of the Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, adding that progress has yet to be made since a to­bacco con­trol plan was is­sued by au­thor­i­ties at the end of 2012.

To­bacco ad­ver­tis­ing and spon­sor­ships should also be banned from the In­ter­net, Yang said.

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