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China’s Chen Awarded for Efforts Curbing 300 Million Smokers

Chen Zhu, China’s Health Minister, was recognized by the World Health Organization for his efforts fighting tobacco in a country of 300 million smokers.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan praised Chen’s contribution to tobacco control in China, which introduced smoke-free hospitals and cities in recent years, and promoted smoking cessation with a telephone helpline in four cities.

About 1 million people in China die annually from heart attack, cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, the Geneva-based WHO said in a statement today. Chen, 59, the first and sole minister-level Chinese official who doesn’t belong to any political party, is trying to improve the way tobacco companies are regulated, he said in an interview in March, adding that commercial activities of the companies “should be totally separate from administrative supervision.”

“Your work is not easy, with a powerful state-owned tobacco industry,” Chan said of Chen at an award ceremony in Beijing today. “Much of your excellent work was hampered by interference from the tobacco industry. We need to hit the tobacco industry with a big hammer. Let’s do it together.”

Tobacco presents a dilemma in China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of the aromatic leaves, as the industry regulator the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration also runs the world’s biggest cigarette maker, China National Tobacco Corp. The state-owned industry had net income of more than $18 billion and generated more than $95 billion of tax revenue last year.

More Laws

Legislators are “actively preparing” to introduce more tobacco-control laws and have sent research teams overseas to conduct surveys and acquire knowledge, Xinhua reported last week.

China’s tobacco deaths may continue to increase until as late as 2030, the official Xinhua News Agency said on July 12, citing Liang Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The volume of cigarettes sold in China is expected to expand 14 percent annually during the five years through 2015, researcher Euromonitor International said in a July 2011 report.

Rules banning smoking in public places from May 2011 were criticized for being ineffective in tackling smoking due to the lack of laws to enforce the restrictions.

Every year, WHO recognizes individuals or organizations in each of its six regional areas for their accomplishments in tobacco control. The Prime Minister of Kazakhstan and an official from Brazil also received Director General Special Awards this year for tobacco control.

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