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China ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in October 2005, promising to ban all tobacco advertising by January 2011. To prepare for and ensure an effective and comprehensive ban, it is important to monitor the current channels and levels of tobacco advertising and promotion. Our recent trip to Kunming City, capital of the south-western province of Yunnan, gave us a gleam of the prevalence of tobacco advertising and the strategies adopted by the local tobacco companies in promoting their products.
We attended a workshop on tobacco control policy evaluation in Kunming in late April 2008. During our three-day stay there we were quite “impressed” by the ingenuity of the local tobacco companies in advertising their products. We saw tobacco companies’ names, corporate images and websites on rooftop signage and the windscreens of taxis. Figure 1 shows a tobacco advertisement for the “Honghe Group”, which is one of the major tobacco companies in Yunnan (its website (www.honghe.com) is on the back windscreen of the taxi). We also noticed similar tobacco advertisements on large posters erected on the street and on buildings near Kunming railway station. On our way to a well-known tourist attraction (The Ethnicity Village of Yunnan) we saw dozens of huge promotional lanterns for “Hongyun Tobacco Group” lined up like lamp posts and extending for several hundred metres along the median strip of the main road (figs 2 and 3). On these red lanterns the tobacco company’s name and brand (“Yunyan” brand) are highlighted in huge Chinese characters. Slogans of the company also appear on the lanterns (the same as those on their cigarette packages): “Having the companion of Hongyun [cigarettes], good luck and happiness will be with you”. When we came to an intersection of the main road, the lantern advertisements were now replaced by large posters (fig 4). The tobacco ad on the posters was presented as a Chinese poem, claiming that it is a famous brand in China; that this brand of cigarettes has a unique flavour and can help smokers express their exceptional personalities.
In China the 1991 Tobacco Products Monopoly Law (Article 19) and the 1994 Advertisement Law (Article 18) ban direct tobacco advertisements on movies, radios, TV, newspapers or periodicals. However, restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion in China are not comprehensive. There are no clear restrictions on outdoor and internet tobacco advertisements. The tobacco advertisements observed in Kunming indicate that tobacco companies are continuing to exploit the loopholes in the existing laws to promote their deadly products, suggesting an urgent need for enhanced policy development and robust monitoring and enforcement of the laws regarding tobacco advertising restrictions if China were to fulfil its FCTC obligations.
Funding: This work was supported by grants P50 CA111236 and R01 CA100362 (Roswell Park Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center) from the US National Cancer Institute and NIH grant 1 R01 CA125116-01A1. Attendance by the authors at the Kunming ITC-China workshop was funded by the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project). The authors thank Professor Ron Borland (The Cancer Council Victoria, Australia), Professor Geoffrey Fong (University of Waterloo, Canada) and Dr Jiang Yuan (Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention) for their generous support.
Competing interests: None.