China’s youth tobacco survey highlights the need to protect youth from tobacco harms

News release

In China, this year’s World No Tobacco Day marked China’s first ever—and the world’s largest—national Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS). The results highlight the urgent need for strong action to protect young people from the harms of tobacco.

“This data is crucial in the fight against tobacco in China. We know that the vast majority of smokers start as teenagers,” said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo. “We must act to prevent young people in China from becoming the tobacco industry’s customers today—and the mortality statistics of tomorrow.” Tobacco claims 1 million lives in China annually. “That figure will triple to 3 million by 2050, if dramatic action is not taken now to reduce current smoking rates,” Dr Shin added.

The China Global Youth Tobacco Survey revealed:

  • More than half of all students surveyed reported being exposed to second-hand smoke at school, highlighting the urgent need for a comprehensive national smoke-free law to protect young people from the toxic smoke of others.
  • Nearly half of all students had noticed tobacco advertisements or promotions, highlighting the need for a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in China.
  • More than 80% of 13-15 year old surveyed were not prevented from buying cigarettes—despite laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to those under 18 in China—suggesting the urgent need for strengthened enforcement of laws and possible restrictions on tobacco retail outlets near schools, as well as higher taxes and prices to make tobacco less affordable.

Dr Xiao Lin, who led the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) work on the survey said, “The GYTS is very important for us, as the data make us understand the tobacco situation at both the national and sub-national level. Moreover, the survey provides us with lots of critical evidence for tobacco control and policy promotion.” Dr Xiao added, “We are so proud that the China GYTS is the world’s largest ever youth tobacco survey. It covered 31 provinces, including 1020 schools from 336 counties/districts. A total of 155 117 eligible middle school students in grades 1, 2 and 3 completed the survey.”

Describing the tobacco situation in China, Dr Xiao said, “In recent years, China enforced lots of tobacco control activities: health education, the establishment of smoke-free schools, smoke-free health facilities, smoke-free workplaces and the enactment of smoke-free legislation in some cities.” In spite of these, “More than half of Chinese men are smokers; cigarettes are still regarded as gifts; more than 40% of male teachers smoke; and tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could be seen everywhere.” Dr Xiao added that tobacco prices remain low in China, and tobacco products are very accessible.

“We need to understand how these things influence today’s teenagers,” said Dr Xiao.

WHO Representative in China Dr Bernhard Schwartländer pointed out that the China GYTS data also reveal high awareness levels among young people about the harms of tobacco consumption. Moreover, there are a majority of young people in favour of banning smoking in public places:

  • Nearly three-quarters (73.9%) know that other people’s tobacco smoking is harmful to them.
  • Two-thirds (66.7%) of students support a ban on smoking inside enclosed public places.

“We can all take heart from this, as the report highlights how young people can be our partners in pushing for the policies that are needed to protect them—and the rest of China’s population—from the terrible harms of tobacco use,” said Dr Schwartländer.

The Global Youth Tobacco Survey was released to mark World No Tobacco Day 2014. It was conducted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention under the supervision of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission.

For further information, please contact:

Ms Liu Shujun
WHO Representative Office in China
Telephone: + 85 10 6532 7191

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Telephone: +632 528 9993