Organisers of the Shanghai 2010 World Expo were likely to return 200 million yuan (HK$227 million) in donations from a domestic tobacco company in honour of the mainland's broader commitment to the international anti-smoking movement, health campaigners said. If the money is returned, it is believed to be a response to a petition letter signed by 20 prominent anti-smoking activists and public health officials, who contended that accepting the money constituted a breach of an international anti-smoking treaty that China ratified in 2005. It would be the second high-profile public relations blow for the powerful domestic tobacco industry in eight months. In December, the Ministry of Civil Affairs was forced to strip six huge state-owned tobacco firms of a government-conferred title of being among the country's most generous companies in terms of charity-related contributions. With limited latitude to advertise, mainland cigarette makers have been increasingly relying on thinly veiled campaigns and corporate social responsibility manoeuvres. But the opposition has grown stronger. 'We filed the petition because accepting the money went against the spirit of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,' said Cui Xiaobo, a tobacco-control expert at Beijing Capital Medical University, who signed the petition letter. 'There has been no official response from the expo yet, but we learned from our own channels that the chances are big that they would give up the donation.' The Shanghai Tobacco Group, one of the country's biggest cigarette makers, contributed the 200 million yuan to fund the construction of the China pavilion at the expo, which will run in Shanghai next year from May 1 to October 31. China signed WHO's convention, which included prohibiting tobacco firms promoting their products through corporate social responsibility projects, in 2003. But it took two more years before the National People's Congress approved the accord. China is the world's largest tobacco consumer, with 350 million smokers, one-third of the global total. One million people die each year from smoking-related diseases, and 540 million suffer the effects of second-hand smoke, with 100,000 dying annually, according to Ministry of Health figures. All major players in the tobacco industry are owned by the central government via the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, and although the enormous sector still has political clout, China has already banned straightforward tobacco advertising and promised to phase out other promotions, such as corporate social responsibility campaigns by cigarette makers, before putting in place a sweeping ban in 2011. 'In terms of restraining implicit cigarette-related marketing activities, there have not been any meaningful changes,' said Jiang Yuan, a tobacco-control official at the Ministry of Health and also a signatory of the petition letter. 'We now try arm-twisting on a case-by-case basis and hope it will help change things.'