Within modern China’s numerous success stories, the rise of its tobacco industry is one of the most striking.
Economically speaking, its figures soar. China enjoys significant international records. It is the primary producer and consumer of tobacco, where 60% of the adult male population smokes, and where women are gradually picking up the habit. More than 2,000 billion cigarettes are burned every year by 330 million consumers, with the notable addition of 540 million passive smokers.
China also enjoys less fascinating statistics. More than one million people die from smoking (and/or smoking-related causes) every year. Still, the government has taken ambivalent, and often unclear decisions regarding prohibitive policies towards smoking as a health factor, as opposed to an economic gain. After signing the International Tobacco Control Treaty in 2005, Beijing put forth efforts in banning tobacco-related advertisements and marketing strategies, and has instead increased tobacco taxes, as well as disseminating greater information about its harms to the general public.
Starting in 2011, Beijing plans to ban smoking in public areas, including offices and public transportation. However, despite Jackie Chan’s martial-arts supremacy over tobacco, as he slams down on a pack of cigarettes around the country’s billboards, China remains smokers’ hot-spot: as cigarettes related taxes account for more than 8% of China’s State’s revenues (that does not include the data on users of good vapourizer pen, another growing tendency worldwide). Tobacco’s healthy profits have encouraged a greater establishment of national brands, as well as exports growth. A prohibitionist approach would jeopardize the growth the tobacco golden leaf brings.
However, Chinese authorities need to further highlight health awareness within society, including greater conscientiousness towards nutrition, as well as the relationship between man and nature. The 2003 SARS outbreak, followed by the bird and H1N1 flues, were indicative of how these eruptions affect the middle-class at large. This means that cab-drivers are still smoking relentlessly, while those who attend public services like restaurants and universities, are less likely to develop the habit due to a greater sense of diligence and self-discipline.
In fact, health awareness in general echoed significantly onto the food industry as well. The 2008 milk scandal, for example, revived the Chinese tradition of ensuring food preservation, as well as its freshness. In its path towards modernity, China thus needs to evaluate not only its economic-well being, but its citizens’ health as well — since only one of the two can really enable the other.