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    Anti-Smoking Advocates Fuming Over China’s Tobacco Sales Target

    Despite a national health plan pushing for fewer smokers, China’s state-controlled tobacco monopoly is hoping to increase cigarette sales next year.

    Anti-smoking advocates are not happy with a 2019 sales target announced by China’s state-controlled tobacco monopoly last week.

    Duan Tieli, deputy director of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, said at a meeting on Friday that the agency should focus on selling 47.5 million boxes of cigarettes — or nearly 119 billion packs — next year “with firm confidence and determination.” According to a trade journal covering China’s tobacco industry, 47.39 million boxes were sold in the country in 2017.

    Zhi Xiuyi, deputy director of the nongovernmental Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, told Beijing Youth Daily on Wednesday that he was shocked by the higher target set by the administration, which is nominally part the country’s official State Tobacco Control Group.

    The agency should instead be working together with the nongovernmental association “to conscientiously implement the [World Health Organization’s] Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” Zhi said. “This ‘annual target’ also violates the stated goal of the Healthy China 2030 plan to reduce the number of smokers in China,” he added. “By 2030, the percentage of smokers in the country needs to be reduced from 27 to 20 percent.”

    “From 2007 [to 2015], the global smoking rate fell from 23.5 percent to 20.7 percent — yet China still accounts for 43 percent of the world’s cigarette consumption,” Xu Guihua, a senior tobacco control expert, told Sixth Tone.

    In 2015, China’s smoking rate was 27.7 percent, having dropped by just 0.4 percent compared with five years before. “The goal of the State Council’s Healthy China 2030 plan is to reduce the smoking rate to 20 percent,” Xu said, using the name for China’s cabinet, “which at this point seems very difficult to achieve.”

    In 1982, the Chinese government founded the state-run tobacco seller China National Tobacco Corporation, which generates up to 10 percent of the government’s revenue. When Sixth Tone called the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration — the entity that supervises China Tobacco — for comment on Thursday, a receptionist said she could not provide Deputy Director Duan’s contact information.

    “The administration should prioritize the public interest,” said Xu. She added that as a member of the State Tobacco Control Group, it is the agency’s duty to reduce cigarette consumption and curb the popularity of smoking. “But instead, it’s running in the opposite direction and bringing shame to the country,” she said.

    At 20 cigarettes per pack, 10 packs per carton, and 250 cartons per box, the 2019 sales target is equivalent to nearly 2.4 trillion individual cigarettes.

    “To sell 47.5 million boxes of cigarettes next year, each person in China would have to smoke 84 packs,” Cui Xiaobo, a professor of public health at Capital Medical University and secretary-general of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, told Beijing Youth Daily. “China’s smoking rate is currently the highest in the world, and the global smoking rate is continuing to decline, so it’s puzzling that China still wants to increase tobacco sales.”

    In the past few years, Chinese cities have implemented more stringent anti-smoking measures, such as prohibiting smoking in some outdoor areas and policing the sale of tobacco to minors. Beijing in 2015 and Shanghai in 2016 banned smoking in all public indoor spaces — such as restaurants, offices, hospitals, and subways —and other cities are gradually following suit.

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: Customers purchase cigarettes at a tobacco shop in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, Sept. 3, 2005. VCG)