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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 10:26 GMT
China stubs out cigarette venture
Chinese smoker
China has around 350 million smokers says the WHO
China, the world's largest tobacco consumer, is to ban the building of new cigarette factories - both domestic and in joint ventures with foreign firms.

Sha Zukang, China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the World Health Organisation it was a "long-term task".

China will also control tobacco production, including taxes on tobacco leaf and industry reorganisation, state news agency Xinhua said.

China sold 1,798bn cigarettes in 2003, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The size of its market has made it a lucrative target for multinationals - and the focus of international health concern.

'Complicated task'

Chinese cigarettes are among the cheapest in the world.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Cancer Research UK, smoking kills 1.2 million people in China every year.

"Controlling tobacco is a long-term, difficult and complicated public health task," said Mr Sha. "It is also a social and economic issue that needs a strong policy."

It's a social practice, and we need to change mind sets here to make it an anti-social practice
Cristobal Tunon, WHO

Although foreign companies will not be allowed to build new production units, Mr Sha did not say if they would be allowed to operate with, or take over, existing Chinese cigarette firms and manufacturing sites.

Last December, Philip Morris and state-run monopoly China National Tobacco Corporation reached an agreement for the licensed manufacture of Marlboro cigarettes in China.

It was not clear if that deal would be affected by the new announcement, and Philip Morris would not comment.

Smoking in hospitals

Mr Sha was speaking at a meeting on implementing the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which China signed in 2003 and ratified in 2005.

According to the WHO the convention's measures could help save 200 million lives by 2050 if they are able to cut smoking, and fresh recruits to smoking, by 50%.

China has around 350 million smokers, some 36% of the population, according to the WHO.

"In many cities, and in many public areas, on paper smoking is not allowed, but you see even in hospitals some people still smoke," said Cristobal Tunon, WHO senior programme management officer in Beijing, who works on anti-smoking efforts.

"It's a social practice, and we need to change mind sets here to make it an anti-social practice," he added. "You cannot just solve it by waving a magic wand."

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