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Olympic 110 metres hurdles champion Liu Xiang was recently in trouble, not for the first time, over his links to one of China’s most popular cigarette brands. One of the companies that has sponsored him since he won gold at Athens in 2004 is the Baisha corporation, a major Chinese cigarette manufacturer. What has stirred up the latest round of trouble is a book called, “My Heart is Flying: A Liu Xiang Photobook,” with more than 50 photographs of the athlete. But that is the trouble: they are not just of him, as it contains nearly as many pictures of that very emblematic Chinese bird, the crane, whose flying image serves as an instantly recognisable logo on Baisha cigarette packs.
Nowadays, officials grappling with China’s massive burden of disease caused by smoking speak out much more vociferously in such cases than in former times. A senior health ministry official told the media that the association would have a large negative impact, especially with regard to children, as the flying crane was such as a well-known symbol of the tobacco company. She also said she had approached the Track and Field Administration of the National Sports Bureau to try to recruit Liu to work with other national sporting heroes on anti-smoking campaigns. However, his minders said he was too busy training, and in any case he had already supported other campaigns, such as on environmental protection. Another health leader, the deputy secretary of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, also spoke out against top athletes being associated with tobacco, and recalled how an earlier occasion when a television ad using the slogan “My Heart is Flying” was banned after complaints by health officials (see Tobacco Control 2005;14:150).
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