China’s rise in smoking-related deaths is a sign of progress

Tom Bailey

Topics Politics

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According to a study in the Lancet, one in three young Chinese men will die from smoking-related diseases if current trends continue. The study includes Big Scary Numbers showing how many Chinese men will die over the coming decades, and the extent to which smoking is driving up China’s mortality rate – all, of course, without any actual context.

The study claims that two million Chinese people will die of smoking-related illness by 2030, compared with one million in 2010. By 2050, this figure will rise to three million. It also claims, as one news report put it, that ‘the proportion of deaths attributed to smoking among Chinese men aged 40 to 79 has doubled from about 10 per cent in the early 1990s to 20 per cent today’.

Scary stuff – until, that is, you put it into context. Firstly, there are demographic reasons for these figures. Not only is China’s population still growing, it is also a relatively young population. This means that come 2030 or 2050, there will be a lot more Chinese people than there are now aged between 60 and 70, which is the main age bracket in which premature deaths from smoking can be expected to occur.

Yet this isn’t the whole story – China’s economic development is also playing a significant role. This is because as living conditions improve and standards in healthcare rise, people are less susceptible to other causes of death, such as those associated with rural poverty and underdevelopment. Between 1981 and 2010, China lifted over half-a-billion people out of poverty and reduced the proportion of its population in extreme poverty from 84 per cent to just 10 per cent. That the proportion of smoking-related deaths in China is rising is actually good news – it means people are no longer dying of disease and illness associated with severe poverty.

China’s spectacular economic advances have improved sanitation and healthcare, and have reduced back-breaking labour. This means that one of biggest dangers to Chinese men is now their own pleasure. There’s no need for angst – this is a huge sign of progress.

Tom Bailey is writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @tbaileybailey

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Topics Politics


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