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article imageKids smoking on a train sparks outrage and health debate in China

By Kimberley Pollock     Apr 13, 2011 in Health
A video of two young children smoking on a train has gone viral on Chinese social media networks and sparked heated debate in China about its massive smoking habit.
The original ten minute video shows two boys of about three or four years-old puffing away in the space between two train carriages. As the train speeds along the two giggle and take drags on their cigarettes while the adults standing nearby make comments, such as, “Does he know how to smoke?” and “Yes, you see he can inhale,” reports NBC News.
According to the NBC report, the identity of the children and the adults is not known. The video has sparked outrage on the video sharing website, Netease.com with angry viewer comments quoted in the NBC report, including, “The two kids would be lucky enough to make their 30th birthdays,” and “Their parents should be executed,” and “Will their parents be happy when their kids contract lung cancer?”
Despite such strong comments, the World Health Organisation (WHO) website states that China is the “world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco” and “suffers around one million tobacco-related deaths per year.” Michael O’Leary, the WHO’s China representative, also said recently in a statement, “China’s longstanding high prevalence of tobacco addiction deserves the same level of concern as an outbreak of SARS or H1N1.”
The Chinese government has recognised the tobacco problem and in 2005 signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Since then it has introduced several programs aimed at reducing smoking, including 2008's Tobacco-free Olympics and a recently announced five-year plan to prohibit smoking in indoor public places, including restaurants, bars and public transportation.
However, not everyone agrees that progress is being made. The Forbes website uses the Olympics as an example:
"In the lead-up to the Olympics in 2008, Beijing announced a similar smoking ban—and everyone completely ignored it. Authorities, unable—and unwilling—to enforce the ban, fell back to requiring all restaurants to create non-smoking sections."
Time Magazine published a comprehensive report, China Shows Little Progress in Kicking Its Smoking Habit, earlier this year, which suggested that one of the main reasons for the lack of progress is a conflict of interest within the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration:
"The main problem, experts say, is a deep conflict of interest within the government: the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA) is responsible for both running the world's largest cigarette maker, the China National Tobacco Corp., and carrying out the country's antismoking laws. As can be imagined, the STMA has little incentive to push through strict policies, improve health awareness or raise the price of cigarettes, when the business whose success it is charged with could be hurt."
One example of success that is given in the Time report, is the turning down of a $30 million tobacco industry donation by the 2010 Shanghai Expo organisers. They took this action after receiving advice that the donation would be a violation of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
But other programs, such as the 2009 banning of smoking in hospitals, have had mixed success. In 2010 WHO's Global Adult Tobacco Survey found that 38% of China's respondents had seen smoking in health-care facilities. It also found that almost 60% of male doctors in China are smokers, representing the highest percentage of smoking doctors in the world.
Dr. Ray Yip, Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates China program, which is heavily involved in tobacco-control efforts in the country, says the reality is that China is where the Western world was 30 to 40 years ago, reports Time. He believes non-smokers need to assert their right to fresh air and said, "You can set up fines, but who's coming to levy the fine? Nobody. The truth is that the enforcement is public pressure. But China is the U.S. 30 to 40 years ago. Nobody will speak up."
World No-Tobacco Day is on May 31 and the WHO has put together the below video summary of global smoking statistics. One of the most relevant to this report is that "100,000 children try their first cigarette every day ... by the age of 11."
More about Smoking, smoking kids, smoking children, Cancer, Who
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