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WHO anti-smoking award for China

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is giving China's health minister an award for tackling smoking.

China has stepped up efforts to curb tobacco use in recent years. The health ministry released the country's first official report on the harm smoking can cause in May, banned smoking in its office building and hospitals and is lobbying for airports and other indoor public facilities to do the same.

The WHO said health minister Chen Zhu will be presented a certificate of recognition at a ceremony on Wednesday attended by WHO chief Margaret Chan.

Tobacco control is a difficult task in a nation where huge revenues from the state-owned tobacco monopoly hinder anti-smoking measures. Nearly 30% of adults in China smoke - about 300 million people, roughly equal to the entire US population - a percentage which has not shown significant change.

The tobacco monopoly's influence is pervasive, with cigarette companies sponsoring schools, sports events and fostering close ties with the academic community.

In December, a tobacco scientist who specialises in adding traditional Chinese herbs to cigarettes in an attempt to reduce their harmful effects was appointed to the prestigious Chinese Academy of Engineering in a move that was criticised by other academics, several of whom sent letters to the academy in protest.

Despite the many challenges that remain in stamping out tobacco use, anti-smoking activists welcomed the WHO award.

Xu Guihua, vice president of the government-affiliated Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, said: "Among the government departments, the Health Ministry is the one that has made the biggest efforts in promoting tobacco control.

"On many occasions, minister Chen Zhu has told the public that tobacco is harmful and asked people to give up smoking. He also called on the government to step up tobacco control legislation."

Ms Xu said China still needs to issue a national tobacco control plan, raise the price of cigarettes and help educate the public on the health risks of smoking.

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