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The very fact that there is a prestigious new China Tobacco Museum shows how tobacco’s status in China is still far from compatible with the country’s urgent need for serious, effective tobacco control. It was inaugurated in Shanghai City last July, to subdued local excitement. Funded entirely by the Chinese tobacco industry, under the leadership of the State Tobacco Monopoly Bureau, to the tune of 180 million Renminbi (US$21.7 million), this is the world’s largest tobacco museum. The museum spans over 3000 square metres and houses over 150 000 artefacts, depicting the 400 year history of tobacco in China. Its aim is to promote a “positive” image of the tobacco industry and to expand its influence in society. It also aims to celebrate Chinese culture and civilisation.
Representations of a historical ocean going ship and a Mayan temple are on the museum’s beautifully finished exterior. Inside, the exhibits further emphasise that tobacco culture “came from abroad”. In addition to information on tobacco history, the museum states that one of its main purposes is health protection. An exhibit on smoking and tobacco control measures informs the visitor that smoking is harmful, while a nearby placard claims that due to findings from the 1940s that smoking decreases mental tension, “there is no need to object to cigarette smoking”. The exhibit does not mention the addictive nature of cigarettes. Furthermore, most of the “more recent” medical information presented was published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and thus excludes any substantive coverage of passive smoking.
The exhibits range from the agricultural production of tobacco to its importance in the national economy. Elsewhere in the museum, the “gorgeous and colourful tobacco culture” of China is displayed: elaborate water pipes from the 1800s, ornate snuff containers more than 300 years old, cigarette advertisements from the 1930s, and historical figures depicting people involved in the tobacco industry.
The museum is smoke-free except the final “exhibit”, which houses a smoking bar. Visitors must pass through this area, inhaling second hand smoke, in order to reach the gift shop where they can purchase their favourite brand of cigarettes. The website of the China Tobacco Museum (in Chinese) hosted within that of the State Tobacco Monopoly Bureau, is at http://www.tobacco.gov.cn/bowuguan/index.htm.
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