Through most of my life I have considered China a country of good health and healthy habits; I thought of it as a place where everyone is always eating vegetables, drinking tea and practicing Kung Fu to stay fit. However, the reality is much different from what you would imagine. Many in China engage in one of the dirtiest habits you can think of…. SMOKING. Yes, I can honestly say that China is the smoking capital of world. Funded by the government, cigarettes are a major component of society in China.
Every day one will see people smoking inside restaurants and shopping centers. It is even a tradition to give someone a cigarette or two when you meet them, just to give a greeting and show respect. The more expensive the cigarette the higher in society a person seems; there are some cigarette brands that cost 200 to 500 RMB depending upon where they are purchased and who purchases them.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the smoking issues in China, due to the fact that the cigarette factories build hundreds of primary schools all over China. Most people know that smoking is not good for their health, but they have to admit that the money helps their education system. So here lies the issue: Do they push for a ban on smoking or let things remain as they are?
It was stated in a recent study in China that China has over 1/3 of the world’s smokers and approximately one million individuals in China die from smoking-related issues annually. If nothing changes the figure is expected to rise to two million by 2020. An estimated 540 million people are harmed by ‘second-hand smoke’ – 180 million of whom are minor. The numbers are staggering and, in my mind, this is enough to start making some changes. To further show the extent of the problem there’s even a China Tobacco Museum in Shanghai, that has seven exhibition halls that cover a range of topics, from the history of the tobacco industry to smoking control and tobacco culture.
Not only are there healths risks there are also large environmental risks. Growing tobacco requires a larger amount of harmful chemicals than for are used with other types of crops. Approximately 70 percent of these chemicals will end up polluting the surrounding soil and ground water. China already has an air and water pollution problem so this adds to the concern for the welfare of the people. The China National Tobacco Company, China’s largest tobacco manufacturer, uses 100,000 tons of paper for cigarettes annually, an amount equal to approximately two million trees.
Don’t get me wrong, China does have a few laws that ban smoking in subways, buses and hospitals but nobody seems to follow these laws and/or they are not enforced. Let’s face it; with about 350 million smokers in China, and over 500 billion RMB ($78,125,000) worth of tax revenue and a thriving tobacco industry that provides income for over 200 million tobacco planters, one can see why the government would hesitate to enforce a ban on smoking. Smoking has simply become a way of life here.
My disappointment in learning how terrible the smoking condition is in China was extreme. My ideals of a healthy, peaceful China were all unrealistic. The question that is on the mind of the Chinese government nowadays should be “Do we want a better GDP or better public health?” So far, I think money is winning…again.