Global health experts are calling for a nationwide prohibition on smoking indoors, urging the Chinese government to curb smoking as leaders prepare a policy roadmap for China's future.
Various cities across China, such as Beijing, have recently rolled out indoor smokingbans that have made progress in cutting back second-hand smoke, changing minds that a smoke free law would never work in the country of 300 million smokers, Bernhard Schwartländer, the World Health Organization's representative in China, said at a press briefing Monday.
But the country needs to adopt a single law to make a bigger difference, said Mr. Schwartländer. Smoking is a leading factor in wealth reduction in countries and in China tobacco-related illnesses cause the deaths of more than one million people annually, said Mr. Schwartländer. "The existing patchwork of non-comprehensive smoke free laws across China is not working," he said.
Leaders of the International Tobacco Control Project, the World Lung Foundation and the WHO met with China's health officials Monday to press for national legislation. The ruling Communist Party's Central Committee, its policy making arm, is slated to meet at the end of this month to approve a policy blueprint known as the country's Five Year Plan.
But it's unclear whether a nationwide ban on indoor smoking will happen. China's health leaders support such a move, but Liang Xiaofeng, Deputy Director of the Chinese Center For Disease Control And Prevention, warned it may not be a top priority for policy makers.
"We have a long list of issues we have to go through," Mr. Liang said, noting that health experts need to gain more support from local residents and educate people on the health and economic impacts of smoking.
Beijing's smoke-free ban, which rolled out June 1, has been successful in clearing the air at bars, restaurants and offices across the city, but across China, the rates of indoor smoking are still alarming, said Geoffrey Fong, founder of the International Tobacco Control Project. Smoke still fills 70% of workplaces in China, Mr. Fong said. And smokers cloud 82% of the country's restaurants.
Many countries have resisted national bans at the time of implementation, yet approval ratings typically climb when people see the benefits, said Mr. Fong. Only 12% of Irish citizens supported smoke-free laws before they passed in 2004, compared to 61% in 2006, Mr. Fong said.
The U.S. has not moved to enact a national smoking ban.
Smoking caused 1 million deaths in China in 2010 – and that number is expected to rise to 2 million in 2030 and 3 million in 2050, according to researchers, who conducted two large-scale studies in China from 1991 to 2014.