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Chinese Gov't: Smoking is great for Health

Cigarettes, according to China's tobacco authorities, are an excellent way to prevent ulcers. They also reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease, relieve schizophrenia, boost your brain cells, speed up your thinking, improve your reactions and increase your working efficiency.

Pay no attention to those lung cancer warnings - they're nonsense. You're more likely to get cancer from cooking smoke! Those are the words of wisdom from China's state-owned tobacco monopoly, the world's most successful cigarette-marketing agency. With annual sales of 1.8 trillion cigarettes, the Chinese are responsible for nearly 1/3 of all cigarettes smoked on the whole planet.

The official website of the tobacco monopoly claims cigarettes are a kind of miracle drug: solving your health problems, helping your lifestyle, strengthening the equality of women, and even eliminating loneliness and depression. “Smoking removes your troubles and worries,” says a 37-year-old female magazine editor, quoted approvingly on the website. “Holding a cigarette is like having a walking stick in your hand, giving you support. “Quitting smoking would bring you misery, shortening your life.” Such statements are widely believed in China.

2/3 of Chinese men are smokers, and surveys show that approx. 90% believe their habit has little effect on their health, or is good for them. Even in China's medical community, 60% of male doctors are smokers. No wonder Western tobacco companies are drooling over the Chinese market of 360 million smokers.

This week, a group of Canadian experts went to China in an effort to convince Chinese smokers of more realistic effects of smoking. They distributed anti-smoking posters, visited cancer patients, showed the graphic warnings on Canadian cigarette packs, and lectured on how the anti-smoking campaign has reduced Canada's lung-cancer rate. They face a struggle in China, a country where the tobacco industry provides 60 million jobs and 10% of national tax revenue.

“In China today, the economy comes first and everything else is secondary, including health care,” Dr. Jean Couture, a Quebec surgeon, said. “You wonder if anyone in the government is conscious of how great the smoking problem is. There's no public education program. The Chinese anti-smoking association is very weak and has almost no money. Within 20 years, China could have the majority of all smoking deaths in the world.” Couture leads anti-smoking campaigns in 4 Chinese provinces, and has been involved with China's smoking problem since 1990.

As Canadians distributed posters at a hospital, they saw a number of people smoking in the hospital. A hospital shop was openly selling cigarettes. While smoking rates have fallen sharply in Canada in the past two decades, the rate in China is still rising. The number of Chinese smokers is growing by 3 million a year, despite an estimated 1.3 million tobacco-related deaths annually.

Chinese cigarettes are cheap — as little as 30 cents a pack — and the health warnings are hidden in small print on the sides of the packages. Though cigarette advertising is technically illegal, tobacco companies are allowed to promote their corporate names. Children can easily buy cigarettes at Chinese shops, despite an official ban on sales to those under 18. Money, money, money.
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