Sunday, 22 April 2012 00:00
Health experts have backed a controversial proposal to cover smoke-cessation therapies and drugs under Chinese health insurance, according to an article published Friday in the People's Daily newspaper.
The motion was first proposed by Health Minister Chen Zhu at a recent symposium on chronic diseases, sparking arguments that the move would be unfair to non-smokers.
Critics have also countered that health insurance should take care of more urgent needs, while it is wrong to categorize smoking as a disease.
However, Jiang Yuan, vice director of the tobacco control office of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the national newspaper that tobacco reliance was a chronic disease and was included in the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases.
Jiang added smoking had been repeatedly proven to be a hazardous trigger of lung cancer and coronary heart disease.
About 1.2 million people die each year in China from smoking-related illnesses, more than the combined number of deaths in the country related to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, traffic accidents and suicides, Jiang said.
Xiao Dan, of the Beijing Institute of Respiratory Medicine, backed the proposal because smoking had brought grave health threats and burdens to the healthcare system.
"As the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer, China should regard helping people quit smoking as one of the most pressing public health tasks."
Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu said, "I quite support covering smoke-cessation counseling and drugs under health insurance."
Huang argued that subsidizing smokers to quit was not a waste of insurance funds; on the contrary, it would save money as smoke-cessation helps reduce cases of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and other diseases.
More smokers volunteering to quit the habit would be good news for China's 740 million regular second-hand smokers, the vice health minister said.
Jiang suggested the proposal could be executed in phases, piloting it first in richer localities and among patients suffering smoking-related illnesses, such as respiratory and cardiovascular problems as well as tumors.
China is the world's largest consumer of cigarettes, with 300 million smokers.
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