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The escalating health and economic cost of tobacco use in China can be prevented

(April 18th, 2017, New York, USA) – Vital Strategies supports calls for more urgent action in China to implement policies that reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, noting that there will be a positive impact globally as well as domestically if China’s government makes significant inroads into reducing the number of smokers and the prevalence of tobacco-related disease. These calls come in response to a new report from World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Bill China Cannot Afford: Health Economic and Social Costs of China’s Tobacco Epidemic.

José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies, said: “It is shocking that more than 200 million Chinese people – many from China’s poorest and most vulnerable communities – are likely to die from tobacco use this century unless serious action is taken. In addition, a 1,000 percent increase in tobacco-related economic costs between 2000 and 2014 is unsustainable. Without urgent change, tobacco will continue to negatively impact the health of China’s people and economy, and put out of reach the positive, important targets contained within the Healthy China 2030 agenda.

“Determined action – to protect citizens from secondhand smoke, to make cigarettes less affordable in real terms, and to change the narrative around tobacco – is needed. A healthier, wealthier China is likely to be better news for global health and wealth; it sets an example to other countries where the tobacco industry remains entrenched; and it reduces the total global health and economic burden of tobacco. The time for that much-needed leadership – for the benefit of all – is now.”

Dr. Judith Mackay, Senior Advisor for Tobacco Control, Vital Strategies, and a contributor to the report, said: “Change not only is desirable, it is possible. We just need to look at Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai, where authorities have successfully implemented local smoke-free regulations. And while the proportion of adult make smokers, in particular, is significant – still the majority of people in China (especially women and children) are non-smokers who deserve to be protected from this deadly menace. China’s people are showing that they are ready and willing to support tobacco control legislation. We hope China’s government responds to that readiness.”

The toll of tobacco in China

The report notes that the economic costs of tobacco reached RMB 350 billion (USD 57 billion) in 2014. It is expected that these costs will continue to grow, exacerbating inequalities in health and wealth and creating a challenging environment for the Chinese economy and Chinese businesses, in addition to increasing pressure on China’s social welfare and health systems.

The report recommends the implementation of a national, fully comprehensive smoke-free law, increases to tobacco taxes that reduce the affordability of cigarettes, and restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion. The report authors estimate that 20 million premature deaths could be averted over 50 years if the retail price of cigarettes was increased by 50% and future price increases were sustained. 

To support policy change, it is essential to change knowledge and attitudes around the harms of tobacco and the use of tobacco. In Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, Vital Strategies has supported local partners in the development and implementation of mass media and social media campaigns to support the adoption and implementation of and compliance with comprehensive smoke-free laws.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or