Habitual smoking in China is set to kill more than 200 million people this century, a new report from the World Health Organization and United Nations Development Program said.
The deaths will come from primarily poor areas of the country, “unless critical steps are taken to reduce China’s dependency on tobacco,” the report, released Friday, said.
Those steps could be difficult in a country that is also the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco, according to WHO. Forty-four percent of the world’s cigarettes are smoked in China, and the profits show. In 2015, the smoking industry in China recorded $160 billion in revenue, according to Agence France-Presse.
Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, China’s WHO representative, said there needs to be more smoke-free policies across the country.
“If nothing is done to reduce these numbers and introduce more progressive policies, the consequences could be devastating not just for the health of people across the country, but also for China’s economy as a whole,” Schwartländer said.
Cigarettes have become increasingly more affordable, according to the report. A 50 percent tax increase on cigarettes could see 47 million fewer male smokers and 20 million fewer premature deaths over 50 years.
“Raising tobacco taxes is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce tobacco consumption, while also generating substantial revenue for health and other essential programs – investments that ultimately benefit the entire population,” said Bert Hofman, World Bank Country Director for China, Mongolia and Korea, in the WHO press release.