The retired co-founder of computer giant Microsoft, Bill Gates, has earmarked US$130,000 from his foundation to support a "smoke-free Olympics".
"Awareness of the disease burden that smoking causes is not very widespread. I'd say most people in the US know it, but in China, that's not the case," Gates, who co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said at a press conference in New York City on Wednesday.
The funds from the foundation's latest commitment are expected to go toward advertisements in an anti-smoking campaign in line with the Olympic smoking ban.
Beijing has pledged a smoke-free Games, banning smoking from most indoor public spaces, workplaces and spectator areas of open-air stadiums during the Games next month.
The anti-smoking drive is aimed at curbing a habit that reportedly affects more than 350 million people in the country. Medical costs from smoking also impoverish more than 50 million people in China, figures from the World Health Organization have showed.
Similarly, about 1 million people die from smoking-related causes every year, statistics from Ministry of Health have showed.
Gates, who stepped down from Microsoft in June to work full time at the foundation and is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics on August 8, highlighted education as a weapon in the fight against smoking.
"We've got to make sure that we don't wait until China gets as rich as we did before we woke up and changed how we thought about smoking," the billionaire philanthropist said.
"We want that enlightenment to come to China early on."
His foundation's latest efforts in China are part of the US$125 million it has pledged over the next five years to fight smoking, where the funds will be used to support efforts to cut high rates of tobacco use in countries such as China and India, as well as help prevent the tobacco epidemic from taking root in Africa.
"Tobacco-caused diseases have emerged as one of the greatest health challenges facing developing countries," Gates said. "The good news is, we know what it takes to save millions of lives, and where efforts exist, they are working," he said. The foundation has collaborated with the Health Ministry on other public health campaigns, including HIV prevention.
(China Daily July 28, 2008)