BEIJING, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- China's tobacco control
authorities are seeking support from netizens to urge producers to print warning
pictures on cigarette packaging, trying to set an agenda for the coming
parliamentary and political advisory sessions.
The netizens' opinions will be
submitted to national political advisors before they meet in March for their
annual full meeting to call for more effective tobacco control efforts,
The National Tobacco Control Office (NTCO) initiated
the move with several Web sites on Monday to ask the State Tobacco Monopoly
Administration to ensure that harms of tobacco are clearly specified on the
packs with pictures.
In China, although cigarette packs carry characters
that read "smoking is harmful to your health", 70 percent of consumers are still
ignorant or numb to the warning, according to a survey by the office last year.
The survey sampled 16,521 people in 40 cities and
counties of 20 provinces. The result suggested that specifying tobacco's harms
with eye-catching pictures could help more than 90 percent of consumers give up
the idea of giving others cigarettes as gift.
According to Wu Yiqun, executive vice director of the
Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, many foreign cigarette
packings bear shocking pictures showing the consequences of smoking.
"In the Great Britain, for instance, picture on a
cigarette pack is a smoker with throat cancer. In Brazil, the picture is heart
operation. In Australia, the pack shows black and yellow teeth of a smoker," Wu
"Even exported Chinese tobacco has different packs
from that sold in domestic markets," Wu said, showing a Zhonghua cigarette pack
for overseas consumers with a picture of a smoker's ulcerated foot, which is
invisible on the red packing of the same brand for domestic smokers.
Zhonghua, with an ornamental column on its packing,
like those on the Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, is often taken as a symbol of
social status and given as a gift, Wu said.
Yang Gonghuan, vice director with the Chinese Center
for Disease Control and Prevention, said that each year, 8.4 million people died
in China, among whom 12 percent, or about one million, died of disease connected
with tobacco--lung cancer, throat cancer, coronary heart disease, brain stroke,
tuberculosis and sudden death of the new-born.
"As smokers are becoming younger, this percentage
will soar to 33 percent by 2050. That means about half of the male smokers shall
die of smoking-related diseases," Yang said.
By 6 p.m. Monday, more than 5,000 netizens voted on
Sohu.com, a major portal in China, to support the tobacco control office's
But tobacco companies will have to worry about their
profit if the proposal is adopted.
"Although it is in line with the International
practice and will be inevitable, such a move will definitely impact the tobacco
sales in the long run," said Wen Tao, a senior official with the Hongta Group,
one of the country's leading tobacco producers based in southwest Yunnan
China inked the Framework Convention on Tobacco
Control with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003.
The convention stipulates that on packs of tobacco,
consequences of smoking must be clearly and strikingly stated. The words or
pictures shall take up no less than 30 percent of the entire packing.
At a WHO conference in South Africa last year, China
was bestowed with an ash tray as award, which sarcastically implied the
government's passiveness in smoking-control.
To fulfill its pledge, China changed many cigarette
packs before this past January 9, but experts believed the efforts far from
"On the one hand, the color of the warning characters
is similar to that of the background, and the warnings are sometimes in English
which many people could hardly understand," Wu said.
"On the other hand, it is clich especially to those
with little education to say 'smoking is harmful'," she said. "The point is,
what harm does it make."
Shen Minrong, associate professor with the law
department of Capital University of Economics and Business, said many companies
only care about their profit.
"Surely a pack with an ornamental column or a dragon
sells better than those with disgusting pictures," he said.
It is improper, however, to print China's totem on
products which are not good for consumers, he said. "Besides, the profit is
gained at the price of people's health."
Shen also believed that changing the pack could also
help preventing corruption.
Research by Cui Xiaobo, associate professor with the
Capital Medical University, showed that 12 percent of the smokers in the country
didn't buy cigarettes themselves--their cigarettes were given by others.
A netizen has proposed a more striking warning
design: on the cigarette pack there is a Chinese character "shou", or longevity.
When the box is opened, the character is folded. It in Chinese is considered as
"zhe shou", which means the life span is shortened.
"Of course nobody would give or receive a gift which
shortens the life span," Shen said.