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As China’s tobacco manufacturers continue to emulate the trade practices of their western counterparts, it is probably inevitable that increasingly there will be attempts to get round health based legislation. Already, some have dipped their corporate toes in the enticing waters of cigarette brand sponsorship of sport. Dismayed health advocates are concerned not only for the direct effects on recruitment and consumption among Chinese people, especially adolescents, but also about the precedent that will be set if sneaky promotion goes unchecked. In that case, if the big western companies achieve their wildest dreams and get into China on an equal footing with local firms, they will be able to join them in making use of any unchecked circumventions, no doubt applying their characteristic talent for exploiting them even more effectively.
It was therefore reassuring to see five television advertisements being banned in February by the Beijing Municipal Administration for Industry and Commerce, the Chinese advertising watchdog body, for including references to cigarette brands when they should have been limited to promoting the firms in general. The ads, one each from five provinces, and each for a different brand, included one from the Baisha Group from Hunan Province in central China, featuring Liu Xiang, the Chinese athlete who won the gold medal for the 110 metre hurdles at the Athens Olympics. This was the second time in recent months that suspicious advertisements were banned for allegedly promoting cigarettes. Interestingly, of the 135 100 advertisements examined by the centre in January alone, on TV, radio, websites and in newspapers, nearly 1700 were suspected of being illegal, of which most were in the medical field. It is to be hoped that vigilance continues, otherwise today’s patent medicine ads will be replaced by tomorrow’s attempts to reach that irresistible target for tobacco companies, the quarter of the world’s smokers who smoke a third of the world’s cigarettes.
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