The proportion of teenage and young adults smokers in China has been increasing rapidly in recent years, which is an alarming trend, the president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences said on Nov 21.
Last year, 18.6 percent of people aged 15 to 24 in China were smokers, compared with 12.5 percent in 2013 and 8.3 percent in 2003, Wang Chen said at a news conference on tobacco control.
In contrast, tobacco prevalence among adults as a whole has been declining steadily in recent years-the percentage of smokers aged 15 and older last year in China was 26.6 percent, down from 27.7 percent in 2015, according to a report released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in May.
Despite a general decline, the smoking rate in China is still higher than in most other countries, Wang said.
"What is most worrisome is the rising prevalence of tobacco among young people, which represents a country's future," he said. "Young smokers are very likely to keep the habit for their entire lives, which can cause huge health and economic consequences."
Smoking has been regarded as a major culprit in many chronic diseases, and tobacco control has played a significant role in health promotion efforts made in recent years by the Chinese government, which aims to reduce the smoking rate for people aged 15 and older to 20 percent by 2030.
He Jie, director of National Cancer Institute, said smoking is one of the main reasons for the rising number of cancer cases in China in recent years.
"The smoke released when tobacco is burned contains hundreds of harmful substances, including at least 70 that can lead to cancer," he said.
In 2015, lung cancer alone caused 600,000 deaths in China, and about 43 percent of the deaths were attributed to smoking, he said.
Wang said a lot of young people are still not aware of the harmful effects caused by smoking, and more education is needed to reduce the rising smoking rate.
In addition, tobacco advertisements and rampant smoking footage in films and television series can also encourage smoking among teenagers and young adults, and they should be banned, he said.
Wang, also president of Peking Union Medical College, said experiences in countries such as the United States have proved that reducing smoking rates among the population can result in reduced incidences of cancer.
"Key groups, such as medical staff, schoolteachers, government officials and parents, should take the lead in quitting smoking to help create a nonsmoking environment for teenagers and young adults," he said.