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Mackay, who has lived in Hong Kong for 40 years and was not part of the Lancet commentary, said the WHO recently challenged the territory of 7 million to become the first place to push its smoking rate below 10 percent.
She said it's a target that can hopefully be met, showing China what's possible with enough direction. Hong Kong's leaders, along with WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan, the financial hub's former health director, are also key to helping China realize just how much smoking will cost the country in the long run.
"Some people in China always think that Chinese are a special case, and actually I don't buy it at all," she said. "I've worked with kings and communists in this region and the product is the same, the health effects are the same, the obstacles are the same, what has to be done is the same."
Earlier this week, a national study revealed that China is now home to the most people living with diabetes. Smoking is a major risk factor for that chronic ailment along with heart disease, the country's top killer. Tobacco-related diseases are already linked to about 1 million deaths a year.
"The huge tobacco and cigarette industry and its economic impact are serious challenges to tobacco control," said Koplan. "But not much different from the tobacco industry in the U.S. Good health eventually trumps commercial profits."
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