China can prevent nearly 13 million
tobacco-related deaths by 2050 by fully implementing a set of neglected anti-smoking
policies it had already agreed to, according to researchers.
The estimated number of lives saved, more
than the population of Greece, would result from a 40% lower
smoking rate than that projected on current trends, said a paper in the
British Medical Journal.
Without any change, it said, China risked
accumulating more than 50 million tobacco deaths between 2012 and 2050 -- the
largest burden of any nation.
Set of stronger policies
But the toll could be reduced by more than
a fifth through measures that include higher tobacco taxes, legislating for
smoke-free areas and stricter advertising bans.
"The consequences of inaction are
considerable," warned the paper that used computer modelling to predict
the potential health benefits of a set of policies China had agreed to when it
joined the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
(FCTC) in 2003.
"Without the implementation of the
complete set of stronger policies, the death and disability legacy of current
smoking will endure for decades in China."
deaths to double
The world's most populous nation accounts
for about a third of the world's smokers, said the report. More than half of
Chinese men smoke. It was also the biggest tobacco producer.
The FCTC mandates a number of policies that
include the creation of smoke-free environments, higher taxes, treatment for
tobacco dependence, marketing bans and health warnings.
China has increased its tobacco tax on
producers and wholesalers, but this has not translated into higher consumer
prices, said the study.
It has legislated for a smoking ban on
public transport, but advertising bans are "weakly enforced", it
deaths highest among coloureds
Few policies implemented
China "has implemented few of the
important policies," said study author David Levy of the Georgetown
Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Washington.
The team estimated that a 75% tax on
tobacco products would, on its own, prevent about 3.5 million deaths between
2015 and 2050, and a marketing ban would save another 2.15 million lives.
"Implementation of FCTC policies would
alleviate a substantial portion of the tobacco-related health burden that
threatens to slow China's extraordinary gains in life expectancy and
prosperity," said the paper.
Under both scenarios, however, the absolute
number of smokers and smoking deaths will continue to rise for several decades
even as the percentages decline.
The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO)
estimated last July that tobacco kills almost six million people each year, a
toll that will rise to eight million annually in 2030.
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