Until recently, within living memory, the situation was the same in both the United States and Britain. Smoking was accepted as being a bad thing. On the other hand, it brought serious money into the goverrnment of the day. That much of this money was later expended on medical care was not brought into the equation for quite a while. A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation.
Thus in China, government ministries which benefit from massive sums of money from the tobacco industry also control China’s efforts to stamp out smoking. This is a less than ideal situation. The writer can affirm that as far back as the early fifties the British government, as an example, knew the havoc smoking caused. It was not until 1980 that it started to do something serious about it.
In China at the moment, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology leads national anti-smoking efforts. The same ministry also administers and represents the China Tobacco Monopoly Bureau and China National Tobacco Company. Perhaps a bit of a conflict there.
There are steps being taken in the right direction. Organizers of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo said yesterday that they would not accept a RMB200 million ($29 million) donation from a local tobacco company in order that it can keep to its promise of a "healthy and smoke-free Expo".
The Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC) has called for tobacco-free TV and film screens in China, in an attempt to take the glamour out of smoking, especially for impressionable young people.
Sadly, tobacco companies in China are all State-owned and are among the nation’s major revenue streams. Some poor rural areas of China are heavily dependent upon revenue from tobacco cultivation and cigarette production.
China Daily reported that Karl Fagerstrom, who heads the Smokers’ Information Center in Helsingborg, Sweden, said the Chinese government, once it makes up its mind to cut smoking, will be able to make progress, and he urged the public to lobby the government for action. It will happen. But perhaps not this year.