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China, world's leading tobacco user, moves to ban indoor public smoking

By Madison Park, CNN
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 0658 GMT (1458 HKT)
A man smokes a cigarette on a street in Shanghai on January 8.
A man smokes a cigarette on a street in Shanghai on January 8.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China moves to ban public indoor smoking by end of 2014
  • Half of Chinese men smoke, according to survey
  • China is largest consumer and producer of tobacco

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China, the world's largest tobacco consumer, is aiming to ban indoor smoking in public areas by the end of the year.

About one in three cigarettes smoked in the world is in China, according to the World Health Organization. And more than half of Chinese men smoke, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey in 2010.

Although the nation's health ministry issued guidelines in 2011 to ban smoking in places like hotels and restaurants, they haven't been "strictly enforced," according to Xinhua, China's state-run news agency.

The China's National Health and Family Commission is now working on a tobacco control law with clear punishments, according to Xinhua.

China's smoking habit

The country's health authorities estimate over a million deaths from tobacco-related diseases every year. The WHO warns that if tobacco use is not decreased in China, these deaths will increase to 3 million by 2050.

Last month, Chinese government officials were told not to smoke in public places such as hospitals, public transport or schools to set a good example for the public.

The latest moves by the Chinese government on tobacco are "hopeful," said Dr. Judith Mackay, the senior adviser at the World Lung Foundation, who examines tobacco issues in China.

About 32 Chinese cities have passed their own rules to restrict public smoking, she added.

"China stands on its own in the magnitude of the problem," said Mackay. "Unless there is change in China, we won't proceed further in reducing the tobacco epidemic in the world."

Tobacco use in China has far-reaching consequences, she said.

"This isn't a health problem. It's a huge economic problem. There's all these things ranging from medical and health care costs, the costs to the families and there's the cost of secondhand smoke."

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