By Benjamin Cost
China’s rampant smoking problem is not only bad for the health of its people, but might also prove detrimental to the health of the entire economy. Non-communicable diseases like cancer are taking their toll on China’s workforce as they account for 80% of nation’s deaths (almost 20% more than the global average), and consume 70% of all health spending. The tobacco industry alone has been implicated in the deaths of 1 million people (though the actual figure is probably substantially higher).
Other chronic diseases are rising as sharply, according to the China Daily:
China’s gross domestic product has grown an average 10 percent a year for the past three decades, transforming the nation into the world’s biggest exporter and replacing Japan as the second-biggest economy after the US. The same time, the country now counts more than 90 million diabetes and 120 million chronic kidney disease sufferers – the most in the world.
“If we don’t curb the fast rise of chronic diseases in China, it will have an impact not just on people’s health, but also on society and the economy,” Chen said in Hainan province, where he is attending the Boao Forum for Asia. “It could affect the continuity of our economic growth because a lot of deaths caused by chronic diseases are in people younger than 60.”
The government has proposed a two-pronged attack to combat this problem: bolster the healthcare system through raising the standards of medicines and equipment, and keep a closer eye on tobacco industry operations in a country that both produces and consumes the most tobacco globally. Just three years ago, Chinese tobacco-puffers were responsible for smoking 38% of the globe’s cigarettes.
It might be nice to see the government take some cues on establishing “no-smoking” zones from New York, where the mayor has eradicated smoking from bars, restaurants, and even public parks.
In fact, this past month New York’s mayor Bloomberg donated $220 million to reduce tobacco use around the world in a campaign particularly targeting smoking epicenters like China and India.
Shanghai has already banned smoking on the metro (thank god), and will hopefully impose more such laws in the future. But any place where you can walk into the gym locker room to stumble upon a couple of guys lighting up right under a “no-smoking” sign plainer than the polyps in an 85-year-old Chinese smoker’s lung, has got a ways to go.