The United Nations (UN)’s health and development agencies have warned that smoking and related diseases will claim 200 million lives and plunge tens of millions more into poverty in China this century.
According to a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on Friday, China will suffer an economic toll if it does not reduce its smoking population urgently.
China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of tobacco, and the industry provides the government with colossal sums of income. The Asian economic giant recorded 1.1 trillion yuan (160 billion dollars) in profits from the tobacco trade, up 20 percent annually, in 2015.
The Un agencies’ report, titled “The Bill China Cannot Afford,” estimated that the total annual economic costs of tobacco used in the country in 2014 was 350 billion yuan, ten times higher than 2,000.
“If nothing is done to reduce the death rate and introduce more progressive policies, the consequences could be devastating not just for the health of people, but also for China’s economy as a whole,” WHO’s China representative, Bernhard Schwartlander, said in a statement.
“The rapid increase in costs associated with tobacco use in China is unsustainable,” Schwartlander added.
It has been estimated that 28% of all adults and 50% of men in China smoke regularly. Rural-to-urban migrants are more likely to be smokers and risk descending into poverty when smoking-related medical costs become too great, the report said.
The UN agencies recommended a smoking-free policy across the country, as in the key cities of Beijing and Shanghai, where smoking is banned at public places. However, enforcing anti-smoking measures remain a difficult task in China as the state-owned National Tobacco Corp. enjoys a near-monopoly on the production and distribution of tobacco.
The report also urged authorities to raise tobacco taxes to make smoking less affordable. “A 50 percent increase in the retail price of cigarettes would prevent 20 million premature deaths over the next 50 years.”