Deadly Gifts for Chinese New Year

February 12, 2013

As China celebrates the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, cigarettes are casting a deadly pall over the festivities.

A new report by Bloomberg News highlights how the exchange of cigarettes as gifts is a deeply ingrained part of the country’s New Year celebrations, contributing to a tobacco epidemic that kills more than one million Chinese each year.

“In the war against tobacco in China, the world’s largest cigarette market, the toughest battle happens at Lunar New Year. As countries from Canada to Australia intensify warnings, raise taxes and remove logos from packs, China has balked at tarnishing the image of cigarettes, the most commonly exchanged gift during the week-long holiday….  That’s helped preserve tobacco’s prestige and served to promote” smoking, the Bloomberg article states.

Exchanging cigarettes is considered a sign of personal and professional success, encouraging smoking in the world’s largest cigarette market.  Cigarettes come wrapped in attractive packaging and bear appealing names such as Shuangxi, or “Double Happiness,” but carry few reminders of the death and disease caused by tobacco use – just a small disclaimer at the bottom of the pack that “smoking causes harm to health.”

Only 23.2 percent of Chinese adults believe smoking causes stroke, heart attack, and lung cancer, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey. Health advocates are calling on the Chinese government to take strong action to reduce tobacco use by implementing comprehensive tobacco control measures, including graphic health warnings.

“This needs to be an important health and economic development priority for China, and having a national law with teeth and with an enforcement mechanism is really badly needed,” Douglas Bettcher of the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative told Bloomberg.

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