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China: tobacco museum’s “smoky” health information
  1. Shanta Varma,
  2. Karen Choi,
  3. Malcolm Koo,
  4. Harvey Skinner
  1. University of Toronto, Canada;

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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.

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    Entrance to the China Tobacco Museum, recently inaugurated in Shanghai City.

    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

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    Japan: health advocates are still finding ample evidence of the concerted efforts of cigarette companies to recruit young women to smoking (see Japan: smoke clouds over the land of the rising sun. Tobacco Control 2003;12:8–10). This picture shows another recent example of an unmistakeably female “starter pack”, complete with cigarette lighter. The brand is a version of Virginia Slims, made by RJ Reynolds (RJR), whose non-US operations are now owned by Japan Tobacco. Ironically, internal tobacco industry documents show that in September 1998, Adam Bryon Brown, responsible for RJR International’s markets outside the USA, wrote, “We don’t target female smokers. We don’t encourage anyone, male or female, to smoke. We do recognize that female smoking is increasing in some countries. No one knows for sure why this is the case but it appears to be linked to female emancipation and higher disposable incomes. It is certainly nothing to do with promotional activities by tobacco companies.”

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