In the latest alarming statistic concerning China’s smoking addiction, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by the end of this century tobacco will claim 200 million lives in China if something is not done about it soon.
The WHO report titled “The Bill China Cannot Afford,” warns that each year 1 million people in China already die as a result of tobacco use. The country is the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco with an estimated 315 million smokers. In 2014, 44% of the world’s cigarettes were smoked in China.
That year, the economic cost of tobacco use in China was 350 billion yuan ($57 billion), up 1000% from 2000 and more than 0.5% of GDP. Both health and economic losses are felt most heavily by China’s poorest and most vulnerable.
“If nothing is done to reduce these numbers and introduce more progressive policies, the consequences could be devastating not just for the health of people across the country, but also for China’s economy as a whole,” said Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO Representative in China.
The WHO recommends that China immediately institute vigorous tobacco control policies, along with a 50% increase in the retail price of cigarettes. The price increase alone could prevent 20 million premature deaths over 50 years, while increasing government revenue by about 442 billion yuan ($55 billion) each year, the WHO estimates.
Back in 2015, the Chinese government raised the cigarette tax from 5% to 11%. The WHO says that this tax resulted in the country’s first drop in cigarette consumption in 20 years, and provided the state with 70 billion yuan in added revenue.
The authors of the report also suggest that smoke-free laws that have been adopted in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen should be urgently rolled out across the country, and, in a slightly less likely suggestion, recommends the creation of a “firewall” between China’s state-controlled tobacco industry and tobacco control policymaking. At last year’s National People’s Congress in Beijing, the deputy director of China’s State Tobacco Monopoly Association said that gory health warnings on cigarette packs recommended by the WHO do not suit “Chinese cultural traditions.”
Meanwhile, just last month, an official in Xinjiang was demoted for refusing to smoke in front of religious elders, charged with behavior that “conforms with extreme religious thought.”
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat