LAST WEEK, China Tobacco Corporation urged its local branches to try their best to fulfill the annual sales objective of 47.5 million cases of cigarettes－which is 2.38 trillion cigarettes－by the end of next month. China Youth Daily comments:
As the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control said, it is contradictory to the Healthy China 2030 plan and the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which China is a signatory country, for a State-owned tobacco enterprise to set an annual sales objective. The annual sales of cigarettes has risen fast since 2016 when the sales fell to 47 million cases from a historical high of 51 million cases in 2014.
Tobacco is a special commodity related to public health and since it is under State control it should be relatively easier for China to reduce its use. But it just goes to the opposite direction, as the smoker population in China has remained unchanged, if not slightly increased, over these years.
China has 350 million smokers, or 31 percent of the world's total, and about 740 million secondhand smokers. Statistics show that diseases related to smoking cause the deaths of 1.36 million smokers per year, and the deaths of 10,000 secondhand smokers.
The Healthy China 2030 plan vows to reduce the size of smoker population in the country by 2030. But given the tobacco corporation's deployment and growth momentum these years－its net profit in 2016 was 1.08 trillion yuan ($156 billion) or 28 times that of Alibaba－the goal of downsizing the smoking population is mission impossible unless there is a drastic change in how it operates.
For example, cigarette packs in China do not bear anti-smoking photos to dissuade people from smoking, and the price of cigarettes is markedly lower in China than in many other countries. Trying to prevent smoking in public places, even though it is banned, is often greeted with fierce reactions from smokers. And smoking-cessation treatment remains expensive in even public hospitals.
Unless there is a change to the monopoly tobacco system, smoking control will remain an uphill struggle.