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The Government of China, the world's most populous nation, has drawn up a tobacco control law, which, if adopted in full, will reduce smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke on a staggering scale. As China's State Council gathers public opinion on the proposed law during the next month, an historic victory for public health could be in the making. China's 1.4 billion citizens have until 24 December to speak up in support of the proposal.

The new law would ban smoking in all indoor and some outdoor public spaces; ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and introduce graphic health warnings on all tobacco packaging. These measures are drawn from the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco control [WHO FCTC] – an international health treaty signed by China in 2003. Full implementation would significantly protect those currently exposed to toxic second-hand smoke and encourage China's 300 million smokers to cut down or quit.

At present 1.3 million smokers die from tobacco-related disease each year in China. A further 100,000 deaths each year are attributable to second-hand smoke. Radical action is needed to curb this epidemic.

To this end, one of the most effective and least costly measures a government can introduce is graphic health warnings [GHWs] on tobacco packaging. Effective warnings with large hard-hitting images encourage smokers to quit, discourage non-smokers from taking up the habit and communicate the risks clearly to populations with low literacy rates. Increasingly strong GHWs are being implemented across the globe. China now has the opportunity to join countries such as India and Nepal, who have gone far beyond the FCTC recommended 50 percent coverage, and legislated for 85 and 90 percent respectively.

Research published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year projected that with 'complete and simultaneous' implementation of all WHO FCTC policies in China, close to 13 million untimely deaths would be prevented by 2050. If introduced and effectively enforced, China's draft law will take leaps and bounds toward making this projection a reality.

Similar legislation has already been successfully passed, implemented and enforced in several large cities across China. Harbin, for example, introduced smokefree legislation in 2012, and data collected one year later from 1,860 venues revealed 88 percent compliance with the law. Similar successes have also been seen in Tianjin and Guangzhou. Beijing notably adopted a smokefree law earlier this month, which will come into effect in June 2015.

In light of these unequivocal sub-national success stories, The Union strongly welcomes the comprehensive package of tobacco control measures now proposed by China's State Council. This draft law, if adopted in full - without weakening or watering down - will prevent disease, untimely death and poverty on a phenomenal scale.

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