Objective: To determine the prevalence, pattern, and financial implications of cigarette smoking and the attitudes toward and knowledge of the health effects of tobacco use in a population in China.
Design: A two-stage, stratified cluster survey using door-to-door interviews.
Setting: Minhang District, China (near Shanghai), with a population of 506,000.
Participants: A total of 3423 males and 3593 females aged 15 years and older.
Main outcome measures: Smoking prevalence, age of initiation of smoking, reasons for smoking, knowledge of tobacco hazards, and costs of smoking.
Results: A total of 2279 males (67%) but only 72 females (2%) smoke. Many males initiate smoking in adulthood. A total of 1156 males (50.7%) began smoking between 20 and 24 years of age, and 666 (29.2%) began between 25 and 39 years of age. Among all respondents, 6202 (88.4%) believe smoking is harmful for both the smoker and those exposed passively to the smoke. Only 332 (14.1%) of all male smokers reported a desire to quit smoking. Current smokers spent an average of 3.65 yuan daily on cigarettes or 1332 yuan yearly (8.5 yuan per US dollar), which represents 60% of personal income and 17% of household income.
Conclusions: The survey reveals a dangerous health situation that in all likelihood will worsen. More than two thirds of men smoke, and people in successive age cohorts start smoking at earlier ages. Smokers spend a substantial proportion of their income on cigarettes. There is a low rate of quitting and a low desire to quit despite high awareness of the health hazards. Tobacco control measures need to be implemented urgently in China.