China is home to nearly one-third of the world’s smokers: more than 300 million of them. That’s not much less than the total population of the United States. Since 2006, overall smoking rates in China have remained static at about 25 percent. Every year, approximately 1.2 million Chinese die from tobacco-related diseases, and about 100,000 more perish from the effects of secondhand smoke. If these trends continue, tobacco-related casualties in China will reach 3 million per year by 2050.
To help address this health crisis, China’s parliament is considering a ban on all tobacco ads except those at point-of-sale retail locations. How does this compare to the current state of play regarding Chinese tobacco ads? And could the new law shift the tobacco-control landscape?
Current laws ban direct tobacco advertising at the national level. But major loopholes allow for carefully constructed “stealth” marketing. For example, an enormous billboard at the Changyang Road of Shanghai reads “Ai Wo Zhonghua,” which can be interpreted as “love my China (Zhonghua)” or “love my Zhonghua cigarettes.” The billboard even resembles a pack of Zhonghua smokes. Unsurprisingly, nearly 50 percent of Shanghai smokers and 40 percent of nonsmokers thought of Zhonghua cigarettes when surveyed about the meaning of “Ai Wo Zhonghua.”
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