China Orders Nationwide No-Smoking Program. Doctors Dissent.

By Dirk Hanson 04/18/11

Desperate to cut down on the country's sky-high smoking rates, China has called for a ban on smoking in hospitals and medical offices. Unfortunately, the nation's chain-smoking doctors don't agree. Will a nationwide no-smoking program make the difference?

Smoking Surgeon at Work in Shanghai
Photo via thinkstockphotos

While smoking rates across the world have dropped dramatically in the past few years, a majority of China's citizens have stubbornly resolved to hold on to their habit. From the British medical journal The Lancet come these boggling numbers: According to a survey done by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 53% of adult Chinese men are smokers—and the smoking rate among health care professionals, including doctors, is as high as 40%, or “nearly the same level as the general population.” Chinese doctors commonly smoke in front of their patients, The Lancet reports. An estimated 72% of the population is exposed to secondhand smoke. Despite a massive Chinese government PR  campaign calling on citizens to quit, smoking-cessation programs in the country have been dismally unsuccessful: “Only 11% of smokers successfully quit, and 82% have never even thought about quitting.” Frustrated, China’s health ministers ordered the country's medical workers to lead by example. Last year, government regulations called on 50% of the nation's hospitals, emergency rooms and doctor's offices to be official smoke-free zones by 2010, but so far that hasn’t happened. And, as some of the country's health professionals typically go through a few packs a day, China's anti-smoking squad isn't feeling too optimistic. According to the New York Times, new smoking rules will take effect on May 1, which “spell out education provisions about the dangers of tobacco, include restrictions on cigarette vending machines and on outdoor smoking that affects pedestrians.” Sounds good, and we wish them the best of luck. But the legislation is riddled with loopholes--smoking will still be allowed in factories, offices and government workplaces. Three years ago, China mandated non-smoking sections in restaurants and bars--and Chinese citizens more or less completely ignored the new laws. All this tough Chinese talk about smoking and health is wonderful, but it’s important to remember that the Chinese Communist Party maintains a monopoly on tobacco production amounting to about 7 percent of the government’s annual tax revenue. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
dirk hanson.jpg

Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]