In accordance with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to which China is a signatory, the country will ban smoking in all indoor public spaces by 2011. India banned smoking in all public spaces on October 2, 2008 and last month implemented a ban on foreign direct investment in cigarette manufacturing. According to the World Health organisation only 17 countries have enforced bans on smoking in public places.
Ever since Mao Zedong promoted smoking to spur domestic industries and keep China’s mills chugging along, the Chinese have been lighting up, as a result, many fear that the tobacco ban will not be effective. “Law enforcement is not in place, so regulations exist in name only,” the Global Times quoted Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, as saying.
China has also attempted to ban advertising of tobacco products, create anti-smoking education, publish warnings on cigarette packs and ban the construction of cigarette factories, however neither have seen much success.
The ban is expected to affect tobacco trade and reduce domestic sales of cigarette manufacturers significantly. China is the world’s largest tobacco producer and tobacco consumer. It is home to one quarter of the world’s smokers and they consume a third of the world’s cigarettes. Chinese smokers smoke an average of 15.8 cigarettes a day, which works out to more than 2 trillion cigarettes a year. About 350 million of China’s 1.3 billion people smoke cigarettes and up to one million Chinese die every year from lung cancer or cardiovascular diseases directly linked to tobacco consumption.
Contributing approximately 10 percent of China’s central government revenues, tobacco is the single largest source of revenue for the Chinese government. The Chinese National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC), which employs 10 million people, is the world’s largest tobacco company.
Over the last 30 years, smoking has become an integral part of Chinese culture. Cigarettes are gifted at corporate events to fortify deals, are offered to friends to solidify bonds or ease introductions. Cigarettes are given as wedding gifts, presented to guests along with snacks at parties and left as offerings on the graves of men who have died of lung cancer. They are often offered to policemen and government officials as bribes and passed around at weddings and funerals as a sign of respect and happiness.
China’s tobacco industry is predominately Chinese run, because of high import quotas, tariffs and other trade barriers foreign brands hold less than 5 percent of the Chinese market, however because of their status they symbolize, foreign brands are gaining momentum and are increasingly being smuggled into the mainland. Popular foreign brands include 555 made by British America Tobacco and Mild Seven made Japan Tobacco. Marlboro, Lucky Strike, Dunhill and Benson and Hedges are the most sought after foreign brands. Since prices of foreign brands are high as compared to locally produced cigarettes, fake are easily available.
China has approximately 400 different brands of cigarette that are sold at state controlled tobacco shops. Popular Chinese brands include Happy New Year, Gold Medal, Red Pagoda Mountain, Zhonghua, Red Double Happiness, Yellow Mountain, Temple of Heaven, and Weige (the Chinese name for Viagra). Chinese cigarettes are among the cheapest in the world raging from 20 cents a pack to a dollar. Exclusive cigarettes such as Gold-filtered Chunghua cigarettes sell for US$10 a pack.