Saturday, April 26, 2014

Smoking Challenges China's Prosperity

   Industrial smog isn’t the only health hazard threatening the future of China. Tobacco smoke is killing an estimated one million Chinese every year and smoking related disease is straining the country’s health care system.
   There are 365 million tobacco smokers in China consuming close to 40 per cent of the world’s cigarettes. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey has shown that 52.9 per cent of Chinese men and 2.4 per cent of the women smoke.
    Getting so many millions of people to quit smoking is a gargantuan task. Compounding the task is a sad fact: Chinese governments, like Canadian governments, are addicted to tobacco revenue. Revenues from tobacco taxes and tobacco production account for fifteen per cent of the Chinese central government’s annual revenue, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The annual budgets of Chinese cities in agricultural areas are hugely dependent on tobacco revenue.
   There are millions of tobacco growers in China and the state-owned China National Tobacco Corp. produces two of every five cigarettes produced worldwide. So millions of Chinese are dependent on tobacco money.
   Reducing smoking to save lives and reduce health costs means flirting with economic disaster. That’s why Chinese tobacco policies have been so contradictory.
   Anti-tobacco crusaders outside China have suggested replacing tobacco crops with food crops. The idea is that as tobacco crops dwindle, the state tobacco company will have to pay higher prices to alternative tobacco sources. Paying more for tobacco leaf will mean having to raise consumer tobacco prices. Higher retail prices are touted as a means of getting people to quit smoking.
   Canada has tried that. And, Canada has a continuing contraband tobacco problem.
   Canada also tried crop replacement in 2008, forcing a majority of tobacco farmers out of business. However, since then the Canadian tobacco growing business is growing again with production up 140 per cent by some estimates.
Smoke Shack in SOntario - Ron Poling
   Much of that new growth has been in southern Ontario where Grand River Enterprises on the Six Nations Reserve has developed into a major cigarette producer. It has a contract to supply 12 million pounds of tobacco to China.

   Higher taxes and more law enforcement are not the most effective ways to reduce smoking rates. The most effective tool in getting people to stop smoking is education. It’s a long and slow and difficult process but it works. 
   The good news from China is that the country is making a start in that direction.

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