A couple of days ago several news agencies, such as CNN, BBC or The Guardian were posting reports about China’s move to ban indoor public smoking nationwide. I found this news incredible. We don’t have to talk about what smoking can do to your health. We all know. At least that’s what I thought…
Personally, I have endured a lot of people smoking in trains, in restaurants, and even in hospitals in China. I hate it. But if it comes to smoking in China, it is not just a bad habit; it seems to have become intertwined with the Chinese culture. Where ever we went, a visit to relatives or just to the local shop, Jin always had at least one pack of cigarettes with him. Not because he smokes. God forbid. No, because it is polite to offer a cigarette to a friend, relative or just someone you met. Business dinners are even worth. It’s a polite and formal gesture to offer a cigarette. Refusing could be seen in a bad way, especially for men.
For me it seems that China has been remarkably unsuccessful at enforcing existing laws meant to control tobacco use. If you look at China’s history, the first anti-smoking movement was recorded in 1639, in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368－1644). After that, there was the time of Opium consumption, and later, smoking even became hip. Subjectively, it feels as if every single person in China is smoking (except most of the girls). And if you look at the real numbers, it’s not far away from the truth. Global Health Governance Blog states:
There are as many as 350 million smokers in China, which is approximately 30 percent of the smokers worldwide. Tobacco use accounts for 12 percent of total deaths in China and the country produces about 2.3 trillion cigarettes annually, which is 40 percent of the world’s total. Simply put, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco products.
So I wasn’t that wrong after all. If you have a look at the WHO atlas of Cigarette Consumption the average number of smoked cigarettes per man per day in China has risen from one in 1952 to 15 in 1996. It’s simply shocking to me.
I don’t see China being able to really ban smoking. It’s politically impossible. The Chinese government owns the country’s tobacco industry, and 7-10% of its annual revenue comes from tobacco sales.
And it’s not just the government that would have to find a new sector. My family-in-law literally lives from selling tobacco plants.
Anhui is one of the major producers for Chinese tobacco. I have seen my parents-in-law planting, harvesting, binding, drying and then selling the tobacco. It sells very well. If they wouldn’t have that income, they would be very very poor.
In our Niuji village you can see those tobacco plants growing everywhere during the summer seasons. The whole family would help. Binding the single tobacco leaves together, in order to hang them in the little “smoking houses”, is a family activity. I did my share of binding dried tobacco leaves together. When you just see those leaves you don’t really think “oh those are gonna be cigarettes, and they are gonna kill thousands of people”. But in the end of the day, what they were doing is producing cigarettes.
We all know how dangerous they can be. But the ignorance some Chinese people have towards smoking even amazes me. Some people told me smoking is very good for your throat! And if you smoke once per day it will make you stronger… I know those are simple people, with nearly no access to the rest of the world. But it makes me so sad. Surveys showed two-thirds of Chinese people think smoking does little or no harm, 60% think it does not cause lung cancer and 96% do not know that it causes heart disease.
My Chinese family will continue to produce tobacco. It helps them to live a normal life. But I wished my father-in-law would stop smoking…
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