WHO Western Pacific Regional Director encouraged by China’s progress on tobacco control, urges strong next steps

News release

BEIJING, 26 February 2014 – The World Health Organization is greatly encouraged by the current momentum in China for stronger tobacco control measures, but is urging the country to take even stronger steps to reverse the toll of tobacco-related illness now and in the future.

"China is on the cusp of a breakthrough in what is one of its most crucial public health interventions," noted Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, currently on an official visit to Beijing. "Political leaders and health authorities are joining hands on policies that could eventually help save thousands, even millions, of lives."

Dr Shin referred to last December’s Notice requiring government officials to take the lead on promoting smoke-free public places, jointly issued by the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council, which was immediately implemented by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

"WHO welcomes this strong show of leadership from the Chinese government and the commitment it signals in protecting people from exposure to second-hand smoke which is very harmful," noted Dr Shin.

A health dialogue on China's tobacco control was held at WHO’s Beijing office on 25 Feb 2014. Left: Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. Right: Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China

"The challenge now, of course, is to translate this encouraging momentum into a strong, comprehensive national smoke-free law and to effectively implement it as part of a long-term strategy in the country with the world’s highest number of smokers andthe highest burden of tobacco-related illness," added DrSchwartländer, the WHO Representative in China.

The remarks followed a meeting at WHO’s Beijing office on tobacco control with Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC) President Dr Huang Jiefu, Director-General of the National Health and Family Planning Commission’s Communications Department Mao Qunan, Australia’s Deputy Ambassador to China, Mr Justin Hayhurst,and other leaders and tobacco control experts in China.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of cigarettes: there are more than 300 million smokers in the country, comprising 28 per cent of the adult population (including 53 per cent of men, but under 3 per cent of women). Smoking causes over 1 million deaths a year in China.

In addition, exposure to second-hand smoke kills approximately 100,000 people in China every year.

The importance of China taking a leadership role in tobacco control is underscored by global data which indicate that currently only 16 percent of the world’s population is effectively protected from exposure to second-hand smoke by smoke-free policies and laws.

"If China succeeds in passing and implementing a national smoke-free law that covers its 1.3 billion citizens, that 16 percent figure will more than double," Dr Shin explained. "Achieving this will be a watershed moment for tobacco control not only for China, but for the entire world.”

"China needs to take urgent action to meet its obligations under the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)," said Dr Huang Jiefu, CATC President. “The issue and implementation of the Notice is an important step in this process. Tobacco is already taking a devastating toll on our health system, economy and society. If we don’t act now, the 1 million deaths resulted from smoking related diseases each year will increase to 3 million by 2050.

"Tobacco control is a long journey. We shall seize the current opportunity to expand and entrench our tobacco control programme, but our goal must be clear: a society where the dangers of smoking are clearly understood by our citizens, a society where those who smoke are encouraged and supported to quit, a society where our youngest citizens are deterred from picking up the habit in the first place, a society where non-smokers have the right not to be exposed to second hand smoke, and a society where the conscience of helping smokers to quit this negative lifestyle is observed. It won’t be easy, but we must give it our all."

"Tobacco control is definitely one of the most critical issues on our national health agenda," said Director-General Mao.

"The health sector will do all it can to implement the Notice of the State Council and the CPCCC on promoting smoke-free public places, actively pushing forward the legislation process on smoke-free public places, as well as strategizing further to expand our tobacco control efforts. Recent alarming data on lung cancer and other illnesses linked to tobacco use clearly show us that we must work quickly and decisively on multiple fronts."

For more information, please contact

Helen Yu
Communications Officer, WHO in China
Tel: +86 10 65327191
E-mail: yuji@wpro.who.int