For Wang Chen, president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, helping curb smoking in the country has been a top concern during this year's session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top political advisory body.[Special coverage]
He has singled out a particular group that could help him in the anti-smoking campaign. "Government employees in China have higher rates of smoking than the national average," said Wang, a member of the CPPCC National Committee.
"They serve as role models for the whole of society, and they should take the lead in quitting the habit. Establishing a smoke-free government is imperative in promoting a China less dependent on tobacco."
China has made great progress in anti-smoking efforts since the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control took effect in China in 2006, with smoking rates among adults seeing a decrease of nearly 10 percentage points. But much work needs to be done to meet the convention's aims, he said.
Wang, a strident advocate against smoking, has made similar proposals on different occasions in recent years, urging government employees, doctors and teachers alike to take the lead in giving up nicotine.
Wang promoted tobacco control while serving as president of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital and then China-Japan Friendship Hospital, two top healthcare facilities in Beijing.
He set up one of China's first smoking cessation clinics in Beijing Chaoyang Hospital in 1996 while working at the hospital's respiratory department. The hospital became the first smoke-free hospital in Beijing while Wang was its president in 2006.
Wang was awarded a WHO award for outstanding contribution to tobacco control in 2007 for his efforts in the cause. In August 2016, he was elected chairman of the newly founded China Tobacco Cessation Alliance. During the ceremony on the establishment of the alliance, he called for hospitals and medical workers to take the lead in tobacco control.
China has 300 million smokers, the largest number in the world. Statistics released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 showed 27.7 percent of people aged 15 or older smoke. A guideline released by the government in 2016 set a target of 20 percent by 2020.
About 61 percent of male government employees smoke, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency.
To promote tobacco control and improve its image, the central government issued a regulation in 2013 prohibiting all government officials and employees from smoking in public places.
However, Wang said the requirement has not been followed. "Many people think smoking is a personal habit. But it affects not only their own health, it also seriously harms the health of others through secondhand smoke," he said.
Wang suggested the government reaffirm the regulation released in 2013 and conduct special supervision over implementation of the regulation to ensure smoking is banned in government buildings where officials work.
"Once the regulation really takes effect, it will play a big role in improving the health of government employees, enhancing the image of government and improving overall health in China," he said.