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Tobacco Control in China

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The Tobacco Epidemic

30% of the world’s smokers live in China. Over 300 million adults in China smoke tobacco. The smoking rate in China is one of the highest in the world, with 52.9% of adult males and 2.4% of adult women being current smokers. This startlingly high rate among men leads to over 1.3 million tobacco-related deaths in China every year. Of these, 100,000 people die because of exposure to second-hand smoke. Seven in ten non-smoking adults are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. If these rates continue, 3.5 million people with die in China from tobacco each year by 2030.

Less than one quarter of Chinese adults believe that exposure to second-hand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer and lung illnesses in children. Less than one quarter believe that smoking causes stroke, heart attack and lung cancer. The Chinese tobacco market is dominated by the government monopoly China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC).

Policies in Place

China became a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2006.

China does not have one comprehensive tobacco control law, but several national laws and regulations that legislate tobacco. These national laws:

  • Prohibit smoking in at least 28 indoor public places, including medical facilities, restaurants, bars, and most public transportation
  • Prohibit all film, television, radio, in newspapers and magazines advertising. Point of sale, online advertising, and sponsorship is permitted
  • Require text-only warnings that, at maximum, cover 30% of the pack. Tobacco companies can create their own warning labels as long as they meet minimum criteria
  • Increased the tax on tobacco as a percent of retail price to over 60%.
  • Allow sub-national regulations that are stricter than the national law, including those that restrict TAPS outdoors.

Several cities and provinces in China have adopted stricter tobacco control laws over the past ten years.

The Union's achievements

The Union has been worked with eight large Chinese cities – Guangzhou, Harbin, Lanzhou, Nanchang, Shenyang, Tianjin, Shenzhen and Jinan – to develop and implement local smokefree legislation. These cities account for a population of almost 70 million people.

The second edition of the Guide on Assessing Compliance to Smoke-free Laws: A “How-to” Guide for Conducting Compliance Studies was released in June 2014, at a conference hosted by China CDC and Union grantees in Beijing.

Continuing Work

The Union has been working closely with the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC, the former Ministry of Health) on the development of the draft national smoke-free legislation and associated work plan for implementing the initiative. The draft National Smoke-free law was approved at the Commissioners’ meeting of the National Health and Family Planning Commission in 2014 and subsequently submitted to the State Council.

The Union continues to focus on sub-national smoke-free legislation in cities and provinces. The populations of these sub-national jurisdictions are greater than the populations of most countries. The Union also works across the country to ensure that smoke-free policies are adopted in hospitals, Chinese medicine treatment centres and educational facilities. 

Useful links

Tobacco control laws – China

Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) – China

Tobacco taxation and its potential impact in China