New rules to stop smoking among children in China

China has introduced new guidelines to stop smoking among young people.
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Cigarette vendors in China will face tough penalties if they sell tobacco to children, under new tobacco control guidelines aimed at preventing smoking among minors.

The guidelines, published on Thursday by the National Health Commission and seven other government agencies, came just days after a similar notice was issued to reinforce bans on minors using e-cigarettes.

"Tobacco poses a serious danger to the health of minors ... the earlier a person starts smoking, the more that person smokes in adulthood," Thursday's joint notice said.

"[We need to] elevate the task of preventing youth smoking to the level that has a great bearing on the future of our country and our people."

The document contained six recommendations, including a television and movie ban on scenes of minors smoking and tougher prohibitions on tobacco advertising, particularly online.

It also specifies which authorities are responsible for enforcing each rule. For example, the Communist Party's propaganda department and the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and various other agencies will have to monitor the television and film ban.

China has one of the world's highest smoking rates, with about half of all men taking up the habit and about 20 per cent of all minors having tried it, according to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. And about 1 million people die each year in China due to smoking-related illnesses.

Wu Yiqun, a tobacco control advocate from Beijing-based ThinkTank Research Centre for Health Development, said China had made little progress in combating smoking over the years.

"It's a very timely policy. I think the government urgently needs to look at efforts to stop juveniles smoking. China's smoking rate among people aged 15 or above has fallen by a tiny rate in the past few years," Wu said.

The commission aims to cut smoking among people aged 15 and over from 26.6 per cent to 20 per cent by 2030, while gradually expanding indoor and public transport smoking bans throughout the country.

Only about 20 cities on the mainland ban smoking indoors, according to state news agency Xinhua.

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Li Enze, industrial law committee secretary for the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, was cautious about the effectiveness of the guidelines.

"We feel it is really difficult to achieve this smoking rate. The same for banning indoor smoking," Li said.

But he added that the guidelines were an improvement on previous documents because they specified the responsibilities of individual government agencies, creating accountability.

"We can't rest all our hopes on these guidelines. They set the direction for health policy but the key is how the lower level departments will implement them," Li said.

"The guideline will have some effect as it has provideddetails about which department is responsible for certain rules."

Late last week, the country's tobacco regulator ordered distributors of e-cigarettes as well as e-commerce platforms to close online shops to prevent sales to minors.

In May, pop star Wang Yuan, 19, was forced to apologise after he was photographed smoking indoors.

"As a public figure, I will be more careful of my behaviour. I hope others do not imitate my incorrect act. I apologise again," Wang said in a Weibo post to his more than 75 million followers.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.