||China Bans Cigarette Ads In Schools
||Friday, January 04, 2013
ICT for MDGs, Citizen Engagement, Internet Governance
||Jan 03, 2013
BEIJING - Imagine sending your child to a school named after a cigarette brand. Or seeing the school walls bear slogans such as "tobacco makes you a talent".
Such scenarios are unheard of in most countries.
But in China, local tobacco brands are brazenly sponsoring and naming schools for needy children - sparking concerns in a country where 11.5 per cent of its young are smokers.
Such actions have come under fire recently, after the release of a three-year government plan to curb a habit responsible for at least a million tobacco-related deaths in China a year.
Led by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the state quality and quarantine office, the plan aims to cut smokers' numbers from 301 million to 292 million through efforts such as the immediate banning of indirect advertising through sponsorship.
"Young people should be protected from tobacco. The government should be responsible for this," said public health expert Zhao Liang of Peking University, in support of the ban.
On paper, China, being a member of the World Health Organisation's tobacco control framework convention, bans tobacco ads.
But Chinese cigarette makers - such as the Hongyun Honghe Group or the Hongta Group, which are all state-owned and enjoy an overwhelming 97 per cent share of the market - get around this by funding charity projects, especially educational ones.
As early as 2009, anti-smoking activist Wu Yiqun noticed tobacco brands planting their influence among the impressionable young.
She came across two schools in remote parts of south-western Sichuan province with the word "tobacco" in their names as they were funded by cigarette makers.
One of them, Sichuan Tobacco Hope School, even displayed the slogan, "Hard work makes you a genius, tobacco makes you a talent", said Ms Wu, of Beijing's Thinktank Research Centre for Health Development.
"There were many reports on the practice, but the schools did nothing about it," she told The Straits Times.
It was only in July last year, when state broadcaster Central China Television (CCTV) revisited the issue, that the two schools dropped the cigarette brands from their names, she added.
To enforce the ban, the authorities will have to take action against an estimated 100 rural schools, she said.
This is because individual cigarette brands are reported to have each sponsored tens of these schools, calling them Red Pagoda Hope School or Zhongnanhai Aixin School, for example, she said.
Stubbing out indirect tobacco advertising in schools will clear the air among students over whether it is all right to smoke, even if they know of the ill-effects, said Tsinghua University lecturer Qian Xiaojun, who focuses on corporate social responsibility.
"If not, they may ask, 'Does it mean that if enterprises donate money to a school, we can consume their products?'" she said.
Curbing the cigarette makers' covert advertisements could also help fuel China's attempts to snuff out the smoking habit among its people.
Officials hope to cut the percentage of young smokers aged 13 to 18 years old from 11.5 per cent to 8.5 per cent, and adult smokers from 28.1 per cent to 25 per cent by 2015.
But the battle to rein in tobacco use in China - the world's biggest producer and consumer of cigarettes - remains a big challenge.
One in two men smokes, while about two in 100 women are also lighting up. Cigarettes are popular gifts too, especially in rural areas.
Local governments are also reluctant to take tough action on state-owned cigarette makers as they contribute to tax coffers and provide jobs.
Overall, the tobacco business makes up about 6 per cent of China's economy.
Another obstacle is the ignorance among many Chinese that smoking harms health. Only one in four adults knows of the risks of tobacco use, and an even smaller proportion of smokers wishes to quit, according to the 2011 China Global Adult Tobacco Survey.
This is partly because tobacco businesses here have resisted calls, for instance, to place pictures of how smoking can cause lung cancer on cigarette boxes.
Some are doubtful, therefore, about the impact of the latest anti-smoking efforts, which include a proposed nationwide ban on smoking in public and a spike in tobacco taxes.
In China, a pack of 10 cigarettes can cost as little as 1.5 yuan (29 Singapore cents).
Though the fight against tobacco use will be long, the ban on advertising in schools is a good start, said Ms Wu.
"Children should be kept as far away from tobacco as possible."