Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

This Blog was Invented in Xi'an 5,000 Years Ago

Why Smoking is Good For You

Posted by MyLaowai on Friday, April 20, 2007

I have a good friend here who was born and grew up in a quiet, rural part of the United States. The first two years he lived here, were spent teaching at a university in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province (the home province of the dictator, Mao Zedong). The air in Changsha is not good – I’ve been there myself enough times to know. The city is cut in half by a river, across which there are three bridges spaced out over approximately three kilometres. On a clear day, from the middle bridge, you can make out both the others, through the haze. On an average day, you can make out only the nearer of the two. On a bad day, you can just about see past the end of the car you are in. There are many, many days that are not ‘clear’.

After two years, my friend relocated to Shanghai, though as he was in desperate need of some civilisation, he first spent a few weeks back home in the US. Because he was going back to China for an indefinite period of time, he decided to pay a visit to his family doctor and get a quick check-up. The doc gave him a complete physical and pronounced him fit, though my friend was warned to quit smoking. He, naturally, laughed and told the doc he hadn’t smoked a single cigarette in his life (though he did once share a cigar with me one Christmas). The doc looked at him and said earnestly that, although my friend might be able to fool his family and himself, he couldn’t fool a doctor, and that the two packets he was smoking daily were bound to catch up with him sooner or later. When my friend then explained that he’d been living in China, the doc sighed and nodded in understanding.

My friend returned to China a couple of weeks later, this time to the bright lights of modern, developed Shanghai. The first thing he noticed was how bad the air was, compared with Changsha. He hadn’t suffered much in Changsha, but Shanghai air definitely did not agree with his lungs. It wasn’t so much the coal dust and sulphur dioxide, it was more the cocktail of noxious industrial fumes that had him coughing up lung butter. Two years later he is still in Shanghai, and his cough hasn’t gotten much better.

I live in an area of Shanghai that is far from the city centre. My apartment is located at the top of a high-rise building, and I have an excellent view. Or at least, I would have, but for the smog that blankets the city. There are days when I can barely make out the next building, only a hundred metres away. I see blue sky on only a handful of days every year, and I remember seeing stars only once in the entire time I have lived here.

Quick facts: 25% of the air pollution over Los Angeles comes from China. It drifts across the Pacific, passing over Hawaii and raising temperatures there on the way past. A report released in 1998 by the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that of the ten most polluted cities in the world, seven can be found in China (now 16 of the top 20). Due to industrial production alone, sulphur dioxide (21 million tons per year), smoke-filled dust (4 million tons per year) and suspended particulate matter (13 million tons per year) result in acid rain, which now falls on about thirty percent of China’s total land area. The increase in global-warming gases from China’s coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks. The sulphur dioxide produced in coal combustion alone poses an immediate threat to the health of China’s citizens, contributing to about 400,000 premature deaths a year. In 2002, the State Environment Protection Administration found that the air quality in two-thirds of 300 cities it tested failed World Health Organisation standards – yet emissions from cars are only just now starting to have an effect. Globally, China is one of the world’s leading contributors to climate change, ozone depletion, and biodiversity loss.

I am a smoker. My favourite brand is made in China, and it is both mild and inexpensive. Despite what I know of the habit, I find it does relax me and I’ve always enjoyed smoking whilst sipping on my favourite martini at the end of the day. The nicest thing about a cigarette, though, is that it has this filter on the end. It’s the only way to get clean air in this town.

The water is a more serious matter…

One Response to “Why Smoking is Good For You”

  1. […] in China, Health, Propaganda at 9:21 am by MyLaowai Further to a previous blogpost, here’s a quick comparison between various places, using the Air Pollution Index as a […]

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