This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Smoking in China--Will They Die Before Getting Old?

China is famously known as the likely first country in world history to grow old before it grows rich. A lot of people are getting rich in China, to be sure, but not the average person. World Bank data, for example, show the average income in China to be only one-tenth that in the U.S. Because of low fertility, China's population is aging, but it is also smoking, as this week's Economist reminds us. I noted a couple of months ago that there are now estimated to be as many smokers in China as there are people in the U.S. This will have long-term consequences on the health (and longevity) of the Chinese unless something is done soon to change the course of smoking habits. This is especially because those 300 million smokers also put at risk another 700 million people--practically the entire population of China is at risk of first- or second-hand smoke. Although the government of China talks about limiting smoking, the Economist is skeptical that much will happen. Why? Follow the money:
China’s government is hooked on cigarette revenues. In 2012 the tobacco industry turned over 717 billion yuan in profits and taxes to government coffers, which made up 6% of official revenue. Not surprisingly, tobacco is as big in Beijing politics as petroleum and property. And in provinces, like Yunnan, where they grow tobacco, that influence is even greater.
In theory, the central government could drive up the cost of smoking without losing income. Since it controls the monopoly, any lost profits can be made up as tax revenues. But costlier cigarettes would not be popular on the street and leaders may not want to risk it. And since the industry regulates itself, it is unlikely to suppress the source of such handsome profits.
So, while outsiders have wondered how China will support its aging population with an ever smaller base of workers, problems may strike sooner than that, as the deleterious effects of smoking take their toll on health costs. People may actually die sooner because of the smoking, but they will have a cost a lot in health care in the process. Maybe the Chinese government can pay for that from its cigarette tax revenues :)


  1. "A lot of people are getting rich in China, to be sure, but not the average person. "

    Just a random observation Prof. That trend is happening all over the world - and it's no a good thing. If we argue that political power is concentrated in the hands of those who have the money, then you just provided a good argument that we are moving towards autocratic regimes and away from democracy. Furthermore, if we also argue that decision making will be concetrated in the hands of those with the power, it follos that many decisions will not be favorable to to the majority of citizens. And this applies across a braod spectrum of countries and political systems. Something to consider.

    Pete, Redondo Beach

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