China cigarette packs to get skull health warnings

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BEIJING, Sep 12 (Reuters) Chinese cigarette packs will have skulls, blackened teeth or diseased lungs printed on them in the latest effort to tackle smoking, but one expert said the images may actually attract younger people to take up the habit.

The images would have to take up at least 30 per cent of the pack's surface area under rules that would come into force from January 2009, the Beijing Morning Post said, citing an official at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Similar images are already printed on packs in countries including Singapore, Thailand and Canada.

It was part of a plan that would also see tobacco advertising banned in China by 2011, the report added.

Chinese are the world's most enthusiastic smokers, with a growing market of more than 300 million making it a magnet for cigarette companies and a focus of international health concern.

China has banned smoking on public transport, but it is still allowed in many public places such as restaurants, and it is not uncommon to see people smoking in hospitals.

The average age people take up smoking in some parts of the country had fallen to as low as just over 10, even as efforts are stepped up to curb the habit, the newspaper added.

And the new measures could make the problem worse, it said, quoting youth expert Zhao Cuiping as saying.

''In analysis over the past decade on what young people like, they far prefer skulls and other scary images to cats or dogs,'' she said.

''Rebellion, curiosity and craving for stimulation are the character traits of this group. So putting a skull on a pack of cigarettes could attract their interest and help them take up smoking.'' Chinese cigarettes are also among the cheapest in the world and a packet can cost as little as 8 US cents.

The country needs to rein in smoking or the habit could end up killing 2.2 million Chinese a year by 2020, the World Health Organisation said in May.

A senior official from China's State Tobacco Monopoly warned earlier this year that smoking was so pervasive in China that efforts to curb it would upset social stability.

REUTERS CS KP0834

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