SHANGHAI, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- Chinese health experts and tobacco control officers have initiated tobacco-free wedding campaigns in response to the country's indoor tobacco control policy, but have made little headway so far.
Today, about 300 million adults in China smoke and 540 million people of all ages are affected by second-hand smoke, industry estimates show.
Tobacco is deeply rooted in the national culture. For example, leading brands of cigarettes and wines are a must at wedding banquets, where newlyweds visit each table and toast the guests to express their gratitude and the bride, in particular, lights a cigarette for each male guest.
However, traditions like this were challenged in March, when the country's Ministry of Health included a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces in a revised regulation on health management.
Campaigns promoting tobacco-free weddings were thus carried out in Shanghai Municipality and several provinces including Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Shandong.
"Prohibiting smoking in wedding receptions is an effective way of raising public awareness," said Lu Yajuan, the head of the tobacco control project for the city's disease control and prevention center.
However, Lu said the center started to recruit volunteer couples-to-be early this year to hold tobacco-free weddings, but just a few of the 200 couples it reached promised to hold non-smoking ceremonies.
Most young couples had a strong awareness of tobacco control, but they refused to hold a tobacco-free wedding for fear of losing face or meeting opposition from their parents, said Li.
"So there remains a lot to do to make tobacco-free weddings a popular practice in our country," said Lu.
Between August and September, only two wedding receptions were held in support of the regulation, despite efforts made by China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention to promote the tobacco-free weddings.
One of the wedding receptions was held in Harbin, the capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, during which the couple did not hand out a single pack of cigarettes. As a result, no guests smoked during the four-hour banquet.
The guests applauded the couple when they said they would donate the 2,800 yuan (448 U.S. dollars) that would have been used to buy cigarettes to children living in poor mountainous areas, said an employee with the local tobacco control association who attended the wedding.
At the other tobacco-free wedding, which was held in Shandong Province's city of Zhaoyuan, the groom not only posted no-smoking signs in the hall, but also appealed to the guests to join the country's tobacco-control efforts.
Yang Gonghuan, deputy head of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, said most couples who have held tobacco-free weddings so far work in journalism or environmental protection, so they know more about the deadly consequences of smoking.
But people working in other fields learn less about the health risks of tobacco use, and do not consider a tobacco-free wedding to be necessary, said Yang.
People supporting anti-smoking campaigns are offering new ways to promote tobacco-free weddings.
Several wedding service agencies have advertised their packages for a "romantic wedding without cigarettes" on popular Chinese microblogging sites.
Journalists with Health News proposed having celebrities as spokespersons for tobacco-free weddings and broadcast these weddings live on the Internet, during a seminar on tobacco-free wedding promotion held Monday.