Chinese health officials are advocating for laws requiring the placement photos or other graphic images onto cigarette cartons in order to warn people about the risks of smoking.
“An effective warning is very important,” said Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and director of the National Tobacco Control.
Currently, packs of cigarettes carry only a small text warning reading, “Smoking is harmful to your health.”
Even though it is being promoted by factions within the Chinese government, the proposed new labeling must be ratified by the National People’s Congress in order to become law. To that end, health officials have launched an online petition drive.
The graphics campaign is part of a larger national effort, “toward a smoke-free China,” intended to reduce overall tobacco use in the country. Under the terms of World Health Organization rules that it agreed to in 2005, China was supposed to ban cigarette sales to minors, amp up warning labels on tobacco, raise taxes and prices on tobacco products, limit people’s exposure to secondhand smoke and place tighter regulations on advertising of tobacco products within three years. Not all those commitments, including the tougher warning labels, have yet been met.
Some of China’s prior efforts to curb tobacco use have included bans on tobacco billboards, on smoking by taxi drivers, and on smoking in public places in Beijing leading up to the 2008 Olympics.
Currently, one third of the world’s smokers – 350 million people – live in China. State – owned tobacco companies made $53.6 billion in 2007 from this market, with sales of two trillion cigarettes per year. As a consequence, an estimated one million people die due to tobacco-related causes in China each year.
Nevertheless, cigarettes remain culturally significant in China, with few people aware of their dangers. It is traditional to give cigarettes as gifts, especially on holidays, and smoking is regarded as an icebreaking activity.
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