Beijing: The World Health Organisation has complimented Chinese President Xi Jinping for quitting smoking saying that his action will boost tobacco control efforts in China which has world’s highest number of smokers.
World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun said last week during an official visit to Beijing that Xi did not smoke any more and that this was “worth praising as a good model”, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported today.
Chan did not elaborate on when Xi quit smoking. Past media reports said Xi quit smoking in the 1980s, the report said.
“There are about 300 million smokers. President Xi understands the importance of tobacco control,” Chan said.
Her compliment comes as China’s cabinet is contemplating whether to enforce stricter tobacco controls and while the government also controls the nation’s tobacco industry, a major source of revenue.
Xi’s stance will be important in deciding which way the government will swing, said Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the Think Tank Research Centre for Health Development, an anti-smoking group.
“China’s political system means in reality officials from the very top have a big influence,” Wu was quoted as saying by the Post.
There are about 300 million smokers in China. The tobacco industry generated about 1.1 trillion yuan in profit and tax revenue last year, 8.7 per cent more than in 2014.
About a lakh of people die in China from passive smoking-related illness each year, as per WHO estimates. About one million deaths were caused each year by tobacco and the number could rise to three million by 2050 if the country did not act, the organisation has warned.
Xi’s smoking habit dates back to his teenage years in the late 1960s when he did hard labour in rural areas of northwestern Shaanxi province, according to Hong Kong media reports.
A photo of Xi from 1983, published by Xinhua three years ago, shows him as a young regional party secretary holding a lit cigarette and with a pack of the Lotus brand on his desk.
The picture immediately sparked demand among Chinese smokers for the brand. Lotus stopped production in the 1990s, but a tobacco plant “redeveloped” the brand and launched it on the market in early 2014.
Xi, however, had quit smoking as early as the 1980s when he was working as an official in Fujian province, the Beijing Morning Post reported last year.
Tobacco control in China was given a boost in 2013, months after Xi took office as president, when a circular from the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council banned government officials from using public funds to buy cigarettes.
Officials were also banned from smoking when performing official duties. They are not allowed to light up in schools, hospitals, sports venues, on public transport or at any venue where smoking is banned.