Tuesday, February 7, 2012

China’s Government Continues to Act More and More Like Western Governments – Not Always a Good Thing

Can’t They Read the Warning Label on Tobacco Products?

Because those of us in the Western world believe that everything important that has ever been done has been done in the Western world, we are often ignorant of the accomplishments of countries like China centuries ago.  For example, here is the 17th century view of tobacco in China.

in 1643 Fang Yizhi, a Chinese scholar, wrote that smoking tobacco for too long would “blacken the lungs” and lead to death. The then-emperor, Chongzhen, didn’t bother with warning labels. He outlawed growing and smoking the leaf. Violators were to be beheaded. 

Yes, over 450 years ago the Chinese knew what Americans didn’t know until they were able to break through the wall of ignorance imposed by tobacco companies, that tobacco was bad for one’s health.

But China has forgotten that lesson,  ok, not forgotten it as so much realized that the lesson is in conflict with capitalism.  And now that China has embraced capitalism the opportunity to make huge amounts of molney from tobacco outweighs the public health issue, just as it had done in the United States.

China’s tobacco industry is both owned and regulated by the government. It makes and sells more than two-fifths of the world’s cigarettes—2.4 trillion in 2011, 3% more than in 2010. The government says the industry took in profits and tax receipts of 753 billion yuan ($119 billion) in 2011, an annual increase of over a fifth. Production, sales and tax receipts are likely to increase for years to come.

And China has a big, really big stake in tobacco. There is a huge city built on tobacco.  And just like American companies, that, believe it or not used to argue that not only was tobacco not bad you, it was actually good for you, the Chinese point to leaders who smoked and lived a long time.

If Hongta is the Philip Morris of China, then Yuxi is its Richmond, Virginia (see map). The city, with a population of more than 2m, has a Hongta Hotel and a Hongta golf course. The company sponsors more than a dozen primary schools in the region, each called “Hongta Hope” (there are also “Tobacco Hope” schools elsewhere). A tobacco museum in Yuxi boasts pictures of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping leading the revolution with cigarettes in the vanguard, along with testimonials to smoking’s good effects (Mao lived to 82, Deng to 92).

All of this is pretty strong evidence that governments around the world are more alike than they are different.  The role of the Chinese government in tobacco is little different from the former role of the U. S. government in tobacco.  In the U. S. farm subsidies and price support controls designed to make tobacco growing and cigarette manufacuturing highly profitable have only just been abandoned.

Yes people, consult your history books, government used to be a big booster of tobacco.

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