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WHO Warns 'Death Wave' from Tobacco to Hit China

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A surge in tobacco-related deaths is likely to hit China in the coming decades if no strong tobacco control measures are put in place in a country with over 300 million adult smokers, said a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official on tobacco control.

"We can be sure that the death rate will not peak for decades. The number of tobacco-related deaths is a rising trend," Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO Tobacco Free Initiative, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview as China seems certain to miss a five-year deadline to completely ban smoking in all public indoor places.

China ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, pledging measures to effectively curb tobacco use, including smoke-free legislation, large and clear warnings on the harmful effects of tobacco on cigarette packs, total bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, among others.

The treaty took effect in China on Jan. 9, 2006.

"Smoke-free laws should include all indoor workplaces including bars, restaurants, and hotels," said Bettcher, who described the rate of exposure to tobacco smoke in China as "very, very high."

Recently published WHO statistics found 600,000 people die every year worldwide due to exposure to second-hand smoke.

A report published by a group of Chinese and foreign experts Thursday lamented China's slow progress in tobacco control and blasted the tobacco industry's interference for delaying efforts to meet the government's smoking cut commitments.

The report -- "Tobacco Control and China's Future" -- also releases a new estimate, raising the number of tobacco-related deaths in China to 3.5 million per year by 2030.

About 1.2 million Chinese die each year from tobacco-related illness at present, according to the report.

Bettcher said to prevent the tobacco death wave, China needs to stop its young people from taking up smoking and give smokers the knowledge, incentives and help they need to quit.

He said there are positive developments in China and the WHO has seen

"some best practices" in the smoke-free Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo.

"Restaurants and all other indoor areas in the Expo venue were 100 percent smoke-free for six months. People were happy with the policy and it was well enforced and implemented," Bettcher said.

"It shows that it is possible in China and China's policy makers should feel more confident now," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency January 6, 2011)

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