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CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ Eleven years ago, Michigan economist Kenneth Warner was the first American to visit a rural hospital in a remote and impoverished area of China.
He met with the hospital director, a Chinese physician who greeted him politely by offering cigarettes from a large bowl in his office.
``Aren't you worried about the growing rates of lung cancer in China?'' Warner asked.
``No, we don't have much air pollution,'' the physician said, taking a deep drag from his cigarette.
Warner returns to China this week as one of several hundred American delegates to the 10th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, which begins next Sunday. He predicted that this time he'll see growing concern in China about the dangers of smoking, because tobacco-related health problems are worsening.
He'll join 1,500 tobacco-control advocates from Argentina to Zimbabwe and beyond, as health leaders, government workers and grass-roots activists gather in Beijing for what's expected to be the largest-ever worldwide anti-smoking meeting. The gathering, held every three or four years, is comparable to the larger annual worldwide AIDS conference.
Hosted by the Chinese government, sponsored by several United Nations agencies and bankrolled by health giants like the American Medical …