President Xi saluted for not smoking
CHINA is pondering over whether to step up its war against smoking, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief believed it must be given a push.
So, during her recent visit to Beijing, Margaret Chan took the initiative to revive talk among the media about the inspiring success of a young heavy smoker named Xi Jinping in kicking his addiction some 30 years ago.
The WHO secretary-general must have hoped the renewed publicity on that past would re-energise Mr Xi, now China's president, in his bid to curb smoking among the country's 300 million puffers, the Hong Kong-based Duowei news website reported.
In fact Mrs Chan also praised the president in person when they met, calling him a great model to anyone who wants to quit smoking.
"Mr Xi's own repudiation of smoking proves that he knows its harm and is keen to control tobacco use in China," she told the media in Beijing.
"It is encouraging to know that a law has enabled China to eliminate smoking from public indoor areas," Hong Kong's Ming Pao Daily News quoted her as saying.
However, Mrs Chan warned that China has to do more as the number of tobacco-related deaths, especially from cancer, heart failure and diabetes, is too high.
They would soon make up 80 per cent of fatalities from diseases in the country, she pointed out.
Mr Xi's government has been using strong and soft tactics since 2013 to induce China's smokers to end their fix.
But the fight has stalled as imposing more curbs now would hurt further the country's already-bruised tobacco industry, a major contributor of tax revenue.
The nation's tobacco consumption has dipped 2.4 per cent this year, its first drop since 1995.
But revenue from tobacco also decreased 11.7 per cent year-on-year between January and May as profit slumped.
The fall in sales is attributed to the anti-smoking campaign initiated by Mr Xi in 2013.
Last year, retail prices of cigarettes went up about 10 per cent following hike in the wholesale tax rate.
Mr Xi picked up smoking in his late teens when he was sent for "re-education" in a village in north-west Shaanxi province during the early days of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
A friend from that sojourn surnamed Liang said he would puff away at night while reading in bed, sometimes finishing more than a pack, noted the Sohu news portal.
In 1983, an official picture was released showing Mr Xi, then head of a county in northern Hebei province, sitting in his office holding a cigarette between his fingers.
But when Mr Liang met him again in the late 1980s, Mr Xi was no longer hooked.
"Smoking is harmful to health," Mr Xi told his friend.
Peng Liyuan, Mr Xi's wife and a singer, has been an ambassador for the Chinese Association On Tobacco Control since 2009.