Beijing: China can use its state monopoly to prevent its tobacco industry from interference in tobacco control policy in a country where over a million people die of smoking-related illnesses annually, said a World Health Organisation (WHO) official.
"China's tobacco industry is 100 percent state-owned. And this offers a tremendous opportunity for the government to bring it under control," Shanghai Daily reported, quoting Sarah England, a Beijing-based WHO tobacco control official, as saying on the eve of World No Tobacco Day (May 31).
China is the world's largest cigarette producer and consumer. There are about 300 million smokers in the country and nearly 60 percent of Chinese men smoke.
About 2,290 billion cigarettes were sold in China in 2009, up 40 percent from 2002, the industry figures show.
China ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, pledging strong measures to curb tobacco consumption.
But the treaty's implementation is in the hands of a multi-agency work group that includes the State Tobacco Monopoly, the regulatory body that shares the same management as the China Tobacco Corporation.
The corporation is the world's largest cigarette maker.
"The tobacco industry is acting against the principles of public health, and the WHO guidelines make clear the tobacco industry should have no influence on tobacco control policy," England said. The state monopoly, she said, is actually an advantage for the government as it can control the industry's actions and involvement in policymaking.
China has achieved limited progress in tobacco control because tobacco industry representatives interfere with the drafting and enforcement of tobacco control policies, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in January.
The tobacco industry currently generates about seven percent of the Chinese government's annual revenue.
First Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 18:59