Does China's Future Belong to Women? Yes, if the Men Keep Smoking

Two-thirds of young Chinese men smoke and half of them will die from it – but women are stepping back from the demon weed, says giant study.

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Actually, this Chinese man is wearing a mask made by designer Wen Fang studded with butts in order to protest smoking in public places.
Actually, this Chinese man is wearing a mask made by designer Wen Fang studded with butts in order to protest smoking in public places. Credit: Reuters

Unless they stop smoking for good, one in three of the presently young men in China will die from tobacco-related illness, says a new paper published in The Lancet today. That is because two-thirds of young Chinese men smoke and the habit is expected to kill half of them, according to analyses of two sweeping studies done 15 years apart.

The rest of the world would do well to note the dire projections, Israelis included. Israel cracked down hard on smoking, successfully banning it in all public places – with certain bars being grimy exceptions. Based on 2013 statistics, nearly 25% of Israeli men and 13% of women still puff, however.

By the way, Israeli Arabs smoke slightly more than their Jewish counterparts (22.5% of all Israeli Arabs, weighted, compared with 17.9% of all Israeli Jews, weighted). Both Arabs and Jews smoke less than the average in the OECD.

Back to Beijing: Like many things Chinese, the scale of the studies were enormous.

The results are based on two ationally representative studies, the first in the 1990s involving a quarter-million men. The second study, led by researchers from Oxford University, UK, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, is ongoing, and involved half a million men and women.

Smoking killed 1 million Chinese men in 2010, the study found, and projects that if current trends continue, twice that many, 2 million, will die of the filthy habit in the year 2030.

An staff member demonstrates an e-cigarette at the Beijing International Vapor Distribution Alliance Expo this July. Credit: Reuters

While Chinese women have seriously curbed their smoking, reducing their risk of premature death from the demon weed, among men the habit has been on the increase, mainly in rural areas.

Paper co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto of Oxford hypothesizes that one way to save Chinese lives would be to increase the cost of cigarettes. Another possibility is to be serious about not only outlawing the practice, but enforcing it.

Over in the Holy Land, 40% of Israelis reported that they reduced their cigarette consumption because of the laws banning smoking in public places, which are indeed enforced. They are enforced by the establishments, because the one who gets fined isn't the smoker, it's the public place. Also, for what it's worth, half said they would totally tap a smartphone app that would help them kick the habit – if it's free.