Smoking really does kill people, but that’s a hard message to sell in China. When we first discussed China’s tobacco use on the blog in 2009, smoking in hospitals was normal (one-third of doctors were supposedly unaware of tobacco’s health risks), cigarettes were cheap, and one million people were dying each year from tobacco-related illnesses.
Today, it is hard to tell how much progress has been made (though perhaps not enough time has passed to judge.) While smoking bans have been implemented for hospitals and some public areas, they are seldom enforced. In late 2009, a 50 percent tax on tobacco went into effect, and the government instructed the tobacco industry to absorb it. A new 41.5 percent tax on tobacco was passed in February 2011, however, and researcher Euromonitor International predicts this increase will be passed on to consumers resulting in a reduction of overall tobacco consumption and even encouraging some smokers to quit. In 2010, China’s tobacco sales rose by 17 percent, and Euromonitor predicts the market will keep growing beyond 2015.