Call for tobacco ads to be banned from China's new media platforms
Tobacco control activists have called for the Advertising Law to be amended to ban cigarette companies from promoting their products on social networking platforms and other new media.
Li Tong, from the non-government Think Tank Research Centre for Health Development, said the tobacco industry had taken advantage of loopholes in the law and made new media - a rapid and cheap form of communication with an audience measured in the hundreds of millions - the new front in its advertising and promotion campaigns.
The Advertising Law bans advertisements for tobacco products in the mass media - including television, radio, newspapers, magazines and journals - but the industry still finds ways around that ban. The Beijing Daily, citing a study by the Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, reported recently that tobacco advertising still occurred on China Central Television and provincial satellite channels.
When it came to new media, Li said, tobacco firms whitewashed their images by highlighting donations to public interest causes and raised brand awareness by having stars endorse products in online videos.
The think tank released a report titled "Who is marketing death" ahead of World No Tobacco Day, which called for bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
The report said tobacco companies had turned to new media, including microblogs, the WeChat mobile phone instant messaging service, online forums and company websites to promote their products.
For example, China Tobacco Shandong Industrial set up a microblog for its Taishan cigarette brand that promoted smoking and attracted 120,000 followers. And an online video promoting the Double Happiness brand told how a puff of a cigarette would take you back 100 years. The cigarette pack appeared repeatedly in the video clip and a WeChat contact appeared at the end.
"Young people use social media a lot," Li said. "Tobacco companies using new media for … marketing are literally seducing young people to smoke."
Evidence from around the world shows exposure to marketing of tobacco products increases smoking initiation among young people, and even brief exposure can influence adolescents, said Dr Michael O'Leary, WHO Representative in China. "Comprehensive bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are particularly important for protecting young people from the health hazards of tobacco use," Dr O'Leary said.