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‘Pro-tobacco propaganda’: a case study of tobacco industry-sponsored elementary schools in China
  1. Jennifer Fang1,
  2. Gonghuan Yang2,
  3. Xia Wan2
  1. 1Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and School of Basic Medicine, Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China
  1. Correspondence to Gonghuan Yang, Epidemiology and Statistics, Insitute of Basic Medical Sciences Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100005, China; yangghuan{at}; Professor Xia Wan; xiawan{at}


Background China is the largest producer and consumer of tobacco products worldwide. While direct marketing and advertisement of tobacco products is restricted, indirect marketing still exists under the guise of sponsorship and corporate social responsibility (CSR). This case study is focused on tobacco industry-sponsored elementary schools in Chinese rural areas.

Methods Field visits were conducted in Yunnan province to interview students, teachers, school principals and parents to understand their perceptions of the tobacco industry and its sponsorship of schools. Interviews with tobacco control activists were conducted in Beijing to discuss national tobacco control efforts targeting tobacco industry sponsorship. Interview data were transcribed and coded, with key themes developed using thematic analysis.

Results While health consequences of smoking are generally known, attitudes towards the tobacco industry and its CSR activities remain positive among the general public. Educators and parents do not perceive any impacts on schoolchildren from exposure to ‘pro-tobacco propaganda’ created by the industry’s CSR activities. Attitudes among tobacco control activists were drastically different, with consensus that CSR activities constitute indirect marketing attempts that should be banned.

Conclusion National tobacco control legislation banning all forms of indirect marketing including CSR is needed in order to protect the health of future generations.

  • China
  • tobacco industry
  • tobacco philanthropy
  • corporate social responsibility

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  • Contributors All authors designed the project and collected the data. XW and JF transcribed and coded the interviews. JF drafted the manuscript. GHY and XW provided comments on the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by China Medical Board Grant on CMB-CP in burden of Diseases in China (15-208), CAMS Innovation Fund for Medical Sciences (2016-12M-3-001) and the National Cancer Institute, US National Institutes of Health R01-CA-091021.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The protocol used in this study received approval from the institutional review boards at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (001-2012), for

    fieldwork in 2012, and from the research ethics committee of the University of Liverpool and the office of research ethics of Simon Fraser University (2012S0556) for fieldwork in 2016.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No data are available.

  • Author note Only the first letter in school and location names are used throughout in order to protect anonymity of local participants.

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