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Chinese Look to Butt-out in a Variety of Ways

Chinese observed "World No Tobacco Day" on Saturday in a variety of fashions from a fancy "quit-smoking contest" offering a cash prize to the traditional collection of signatures.

In a country where about 350 million light up regularly, according to Ministry of Health statistics, getting people to give up a favorite habit is a huge challenge. In the big picture, about 26 percent of the country's population smokes, accounting for a third of the world's nicotine addicts.

Yet despite the great odds, anti-smoking activists were out in full force on Saturday with a message to butt out.

In the central Hubei Province, more than 10,000 locals signed on to participate in a "quit-smoking contest." Those above 18 years and with a smoking habit of more than one year had the chance to be rewarded provided they persevered to quit their nicotine fix for six months.

The first prize winner, to be decided by a draw among all qualified participants, could receive 5,000 yuan (US$720) -- equivalent to about a month's salary for a white-collar worker.

Netizens launched their own cyberspace anti-smoking drive by calling on those addicted to "smoke one less cigarette to buy one more pencil" for children in the earthquake-hit areas.

China is slowly recovering from a devastating earthquake that hit the country's southwest on May 12, causing more than 68,000 confirmed deaths so far.

"If all Chinese smokers can smoke one less cigarette and instead buy a pencil, we can make a considerable contribution to kids in the quake-devastated Sichuan Province," said a netizen named "Want to meet the one" in an online forum.

Since this year's World No Tobacco Day was held with the theme of "Tobacco-Free Youth," young people in China were increasingly in the spotlight.

In Shanghai's Yangpu District, more than 30,000 students signed their names on Saturday to "refuse the first cigarette and be a non-smoker." Between 2002 and 2007, more than 1.4 million students in the eastern city had made such a pledge.

According to Ministry of Health statistics released on Saturday, 11.5 percent, or 15 million, Chinese aged between 13 to 18 are smokers.

"Young people are more susceptible to cigarette advertising, which usually misleads them to regard smoking as a symbol of success and independence," said Yang Gonghuan, China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention deputy director.

"The whole of society should be mobilized to help to reduce smoking among young people," she added.

(Xinhua News Agency June 1, 2008)

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