Public health experts warn that deaths in China from tobacco-related illnesses may triple in the next 20 years if action isn't taken, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 7.
About 1.2 million people died of tobacco-related causes in China in 2005. By 2030, that number could jump to 3.5 million a year unless the government takes action, according to a report, “Tobacco Control and China's Future,” released by a group of 60 Chinese public health experts, officials and economists.
According to the report, state ownership of the tobacco industry stands in the way of real progress on addressing health risks and containing health-related costs.
“While the national government may know it has a problem, it still doesn't understand that the long-term costs of this problem outweigh the revenue pulled in from tobacco sales,” said Zhao Ping, deputy director general of the Cancer Foundation of China.
China is the world's largest consumer of cigarettes, and the largest manufacturer. According to the report, more of its citizens smoke (about 300 million people, including an estimated 60 percent of adult males) than in any other country in the world. It owns most of the primary tobacco companies, and their taxes support the government.
The country's State Tobacco Monopoly administration oversees the production and sales of tobacco, as well as the enforcement of antismoking regulations. Its figures show that the industry brought in about 600 billion yuan (or $90.66 billion) in 2010. Whether any of that revenue is devoted to tobacco prevention is not known. The authors of the report said that tobacco-related health costs totaled almost 62 billion yuan in 2010.
“A snapshot of China's smoking problem now looks like America in the 1940s,” Zhao said at a press conference. “People just don't know the health risks.”