During the 19th century, the imperialist British had sold so much opium in China that millions became hooked and the drug dealers profited immensely from the coercive and illegal (under then Chinese laws) trade. Wars between China and the foreign imperialists were started when the Chinese government tried to stop the trade. China was devastated by these wars and the epidemic of opium addiction. They are known and remembered in many Chinese people today as the century of humiliation and foreign exploitation.
Today, there is a drug as equally addictive and as equally or even more deadly than opium that hundreds of millions in China are addicted to. That’s tobacco. If you think this talk about the negative effects of tobacco is hyperbole, you need to learn more about tobacco smoking. The average man who is a smoker will have his life span reduced by 15 years and the average women by about 13 years.
According to a massive study by Chinese, American and European epidemiologists, smoking could kill (a BBC article which talks about the study) one out of every three Chinese men in the near future. That’s far greater overall and in relative numbers than opium in the 19th century. The same study showed that China has the largest number of smoking related deaths in the world. 2,000 people are dying everyday in China from smoking and could reach 8,000 a day in 2050.
One of the greatest causes of consternation for me in modern China is the incredible lack of respect for human life and for human dignity and the ignorance that pervades society. Very few people know about the dangers of smoking (see BBC link above) with two thirds of Chinese people think smoking does little or no harm. 96% of Chinese don’t know that smoking causes heart disease. Those who do know don’t seem to care about their own health nor about others so they smoke anyway. The even sadder fact of smoking is that most people who are hurt by it are not smokers who choose their poison but those around them who don’t necessarily choose to be slowly poisoned. This goes back to what I talked about earlier in that much of the problems in Chinese society happens because few care enough or are motivated to actually do something about it. Even small steps like telling someone to stop smoking in public space where it is forbidden or telling the security guard or shop owner at the mall can inform and reduce incidents of smoking in public. In China, few places are smoke free even though a public smoking ban has been in effect since 2009. Most victims are non smokers who do not choose to damage their bodies receive passive smoke.
This epidemic will severely burden the health care system into the future. I’m outraged by the attitude by so many Chinese people. The Chinese government needs to do more to stop smoking though they have banned certain forms of advertising such as TV, print and radio commercials. There needs to be more consistent, more obvious and harsher enforcement of already existent anti-public smoking laws for example. Obviously an outright ban will not work as so many are already addicted but there are other ways. Better education is what has reduced the number of smokers in the US by half in the last 50 years. That’s what needs to be done in China.
But I’m also pissed that only 10% of tobacco is imported. Most are domestically produced tobacco. Here’s were the analogy ends with the opium trade. In today’s China, it is not an imperialist foreign menace that is the major force for threatening the Chinese people and large aspects of their own government who profit enormously from tobacco (about 7-10% according to wikipedia of China’s government revenue is from tobacco sales). Chinese are themselves the biggest threat to their own well being. According to the BBC link above, treasury ministers sees great profits from tobacco sales and this is a hurdle to get any anti-smoking measures passed. The tobacco industry in China is also mostly monopolized by a state owned company (China National Tobacco Corporation 中国国家烟草公司). Any official or public well-fare advocate who dares stand against this profitable corporation will likely face stiff opposition. But if enough Chinese people cultivate a sense of self respect, consideration for others, and knowledge about health issues they will likely be the main drivers of reducing tobacco consumption. There is already a rapidly growing anti-smoking lobby within China.