HONG KONG China's tobacco industry is foiling efforts to control smoking and Chinese leaders must give stronger support to measures to control tobacco use, an international panel of experts said in a report on Thursday.
The industry has resisted raising cigarette prices, use of health warnings on cigarette packs, and even infiltrated into bodies set up to control smoking, reducing their effectiveness.
China has 300 million smokers who consume a third of the world's cigarettes. Nearly 60 percent of men in China smoke, puffing an average 15 cigarettes per day.
"The tobacco industry opposes tobacco control everywhere. But that opposition is very effective in China because it has presence in the body heading tobacco control," said Professor Yang Gonghuan, lead author of the report and deputy director general of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control.
Yang said when the government imposed higher taxes on the tobacco industry to curb consumption, tobacco firms absorbed the tax without raising the consumer price.
"Raising prices and using pictorial health warnings (on cigarette packs) are two most effective measures but they used all ways and means to stop them," said Yang, who is also director of China's National Office of Tobacco Control.
According to the Paris-based International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, a million Chinese die each year from smoking-related illnesses, and that figure will increase to two million by 2020.
India is another leading user of tobacco and in some population groups in the country tobacco usage is over 50 percent in men.
In the United States, around 20 percent of adults smoked in 2007 and one of the country's national health objectives in 2010 was to reduce that figure to 12 percent or below, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report on Chinese consumption put together by public health experts, doctors and economists, said that the costs of smoking far outweigh the revenues earned from the tobacco industry if healthcare costs, loss of productivity and income were taken into account.
Three out of four members of the labour force who survived a heart attack linked to smoking lost their ability to work, with 40 percent suffering severe disabilities.
Yang said Chinese leaders must be more determined to control tobacco use and tobacco executives must be kept out of anti-smoking agencies.
"This is not just a report by public health experts, but also economists. They are telling you that if China still wants to modernise and grow economically, and if you don't control tobacco use, your economic growth will be affected," Yang said.
(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)