Smoking in China

Smoking in China 

  • Chairman Mao is said to have promised Chinese people food, shelter and cigarettes as part of the communist revolution. Sure enough China has the largest number of smoking-related deaths in the world. 1
  • Because of a sharp increase in cigarette sales in the last 30 years, around 2,000 people a day are currently dying of smoking in China. By 2050, the researchers expect this number could rise to 8,000 a day – some three million people a year. 1
  • 57% of Chinese men and 3% of women are smokers (33% among sex workers). Daily y consumption rose from one cigarette in 1952 to 10 in 1992, but appears to have stabilized now. 1
  • Smoking also poses an enormous health risk to non-smokers in China since Three quarters of people in China are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, often in the workplace, in a country that puffs its way through around a third of the world’s cigarettes. 1
  • China still has a long way to go to educate the public about the risks of smoking. In a country where 301 million people smoke, only 16 percent of current smokers are looking to quit in the coming year, perhaps due to a lack of understanding about the dangers. 1
  • Two-thirds of Chinese people think smoking does little or no harm, 60% think it does not cause lung cancer and 96% do not know that it causes heart disease. Barely one in four adults believe smoking increases the risks of lung cancer, strokes and heart attacks. 1
  • A million people die each year from smoking-related illnesses, yet China’s Ministry of Health only banned smoking in hospitals in 2010 and health advocates say a promised national ban on smoking in public places has yet to take shape.
  • The death toll from smoking is expected to increase to two million by 2020, according to a study by the Paris-based International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Smoking could eventually kill a third of all young Chinese men if nothing is done to get them to drop the habit.
  • In the West, smoking causes a high number of heart-related deaths, but in China, the majority of deaths are due to respiratory diseases (including emphysema and tuberculosis), stomach cancer and liver cancer.
  • Chronic diseases now constitute the lion’s share of the burden of disease in China, and tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease. Less smoking could reduce smoking-related health costs, but would also hurt government revenues,
  • Despite Chinese health officials’ backing for efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, treasury officials might find it difficult to say no to the huge revenue they can reap from the cigarette industry, as the tobacco industry still provides a steady flow of government income
  • Both anti-smoking campaigns and cigarettes ads had little impact on most people, the survey found. Only one in five remembered seeing marketing, and less than half noticed health warnings on television or radio.
  • Smokers who got hooked young were most likely to die prematurely. Chinese smokers are:

•51% more likely to die from cancer than average,

•31% more likely to die from respiratory deaths

•at a 15% higher risk of dying from vascular diseases.

  • The researchers say 12% of all adult male deaths and 3% of all adult female deaths in China are now caused by smoking. But this reflects past smoking habits. The death rates of smokers will become double those of non-smokers of the same age, suggesting that about half of today’s young smokers will eventually be killed by tobacco.
  • Only around 10% of cigarettes sold in China are imported.
  • The economic burden of cigarette smoking has increased substantially in China during the past decade ($ 29 billion in 2008) and is expected to continue to increase as the national economy and the price of healthcare services grow. Stronger intervention measures against smoking should be taken without delay to reduce the health and financial losses caused by smoking.2


1. Gu  D, Kelly TN, Wu X, et al. Mortality attributable to smoking in China. N Engl J Med. Jan 8 2009;360(2):150-159.

2. Yang L, Sung HY, Mao Z, Hu TW, Rao K. Economic costs attributable to smoking in China: update and an 8-year comparison, 2000-2008. Tob Control. Feb 21 2011. 

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