Even some smokers in China support a nationwide smoke-free law, particularly in workplaces, according to a report released on Oct 19 by the World Health Organization and other health agencies.
The report, compiled by the WHO, the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that in China, 740 million nonsmokers, including 182 million children, are exposed to secondhand smoke at least once a day.
The report comes as China is mulling over a national ban on smoking in public places to protect nonsmokers from passive smoke.
Support among smokers for smoke-free bars in particular is higher in China than in other countries, such as Ireland, Scotland and France, before such smoking bans were introduced there, the report said.
“It shows that lawmakers have nothing to fear from the adoption of a national smoke-free law. On the contrary, a comprehensive national smoke-free law is likely to be extremely popular in China, even among smokers themselves. It is time to get this done,” said Bernhard Schwart-lander, the WHO’s representative in China, when the report was released.
Geoffrey Fong, principal investigator of the ITC Project, said: “China is unfortunately a world leader in secondhand smoke exposure. Among the countries we work in, China has the highest rates of smoking in workplaces and homes, and among the highest rates in restaurants and bars. This puts the health of millions of nonsmokers at risk every single day.”
Involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke endangers the health of hundreds of millions of people in China every day, he said, adding that secondhand smoke can make air in indoor venues more polluted than the air outside, even on the most heavily polluted days.
About 100,000 people die in China each year as a result of secondhand smoke, the report said. More than 1 million people in the country die each year from smoking-related illnesses, and the number is expected to triple by the year 2050 without effective intervention, it said.
Schwartlander said it doesn’t have to be this way.
“There is a solution, and it starts with the adoption of a national smoke-free law. A national smoke-free law is the only way to effectively protect all of China’s population from the harms of tobacco smoke and the report we are releasing demonstrates the urgent importance of this,” he said.
Fong agreed, adding that “other countries have taken strong action to protect non-smokers from the smoke of others. When comprehensive smoking bans are effectively implemented and supported, indoor smoking virtually disappears.”
Starting in the late 1990s, some Chinese cities began to ban smoking in public places.
“Although there have been some smoke-free policies in some Chinese cities, they have been partial and poorly enforced. We need stronger laws, effective enforcement and mass education campaigns to educate people about the dangers of inhaling secondhand smoke,” said Liang Xiaofeng, deputy director of the CCDC.