2019-09-04 14:22:44

The Chinese Association on Tobacco Control has reported a rising number of ads for cigarettes — despite the fact that such ads were outlawed nationwide in 2015.

The association announced the results of a study of tobacco retailers in eight cities and 10 districts at a press conference Tuesday. It found that 65% of retailers in the eight cities displayed cigarette ads — an increase of 19% from 2016, the first full year the ban was in effect. All of the retailers tobacco control officials visited in Guangzhou and Zhengzhou displayed ads.

According to Article 22 of China’s advertising law, displaying or promoting “the name, trademark, packaging, decoration, and other similar aspects of tobacco products” is prohibited.

Liao Wenke, the association’s vice president, said at the press conference that 58% of tobacco retailers had failed to post notices against selling tobacco to minors. “I strongly urge supervisory departments to enhance oversight and firmly clamp down on tobacco advertisements,” he said. “Retailers found to be in violation must be punished accordingly.”

Cigarette sellers must have “a stronger sense of social responsibility,” Liao said.

But one tobacco control expert cited in the survey suggested that the responsibility of enforcing the national ban on tobacco ads shouldn’t lie solely with retailers.

“As the headquarters that administers tobacco retailers, China Tobacco has seen problems in implementing and supervising (the ban),” said Xu Guihua, a senior adviser to the tobacco control association, referring to the country’s state-owned tobacco monopoly. She also urged China’s top consumer watchdog, the State Administration for Market Regulation, to be more diligent in its supervisory duties.

In recent years, authorities have acknowledged that tobacco use presents a serious health concern for China, where over half of all men are smokers, according to a 2015 estimate. But while major cities like Beijing and Shanghai instituted unprecedented public smoking bans beginning in 2016, the fact that the central government professes to safeguard public health while relying on cigarette sales as a major source of income remains a conflict of interest. In 2018, China Tobacco raked in a whopping 1.44 trillion yuan ($209 billion) in cigarette sales.

In November of last year, the deputy director of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration announced the country’s highest-ever annual tobacco sales target of 47.5 million boxes of cigarettes — or the equivalent of 84 packs for every living person in the country. The move was heavily criticized by anti-smoking advocates like Xu, who told Sixth Tone at the time that it would make the central government’s much-publicized goal of reducing the country’s overall smoking rate to 20% by the year 2030 “very difficult to achieve.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A man walks past a cigarette vendor in Shanghai, May 31, 2013. Peter Parks/VCG)