China doctors slam TV smoke

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Prevalent cigarette smoking in a current hit show about 1930s gangsters in China's commercial capital has prompted an unusual complaint to central broadcast regulators.

The remake of hit 1980s Hong Kong series "The Bund" features fictional gangster Xu Wenqiang, a Chinese chain-smoking Bugsy Siegel in overcoat and fedora.

The Think Tank Research Center for Health Development has filed a complaint regarding Xu's onscreen smoking with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, local media reported Wednesday.

The popularity of Xu and his stylized smoking in the original series helped launch the career of Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat.

But now it is that very smoking that is raising a stink among viewers.

"We didn't realize this would be a problem," Gao Xixi, director of the new series, told the China Daily. "There is no specific regulation in China against smoking on TV."

Founded by doctors Wang Ke-an and Wang Chen, the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development provides research for anti-smoking legislation in China, where there are about 350 million smokers.

The two doctors submitted a formal complaint to SARFT criticizing "The Bund," noting that, over the past two years, 36% of Chinese TV dramas showed actors smoking, with characters lighting up an average of once every 12 minutes.

The complaint suggests that SARFT impose stricter regulations limiting or even prohibiting smoking on TV series and in films. The fear is that the image of smoking as something cool will exacerbate China's public health problems.

In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has banned smoking in some places, such as movie theaters and public transport, but the habit carries on almost everywhere else, including elevators, restaurants and even some hospitals.

"About 10 years ago, my father received a $6.25 ticket for public smoking, a good part of his monthly wage, and since then he never smokes in public," Sheila Jiang, a 24-year-old marketing manager, said in an interview. "I grew up watching (Xu) and he always smoked. Smoking scenes are necessary if it reflects the character, but don't overdo it."

China needs to rein in smoking or the habit could end up killing 2.2 million Chinese a year by 2020, the World Health Organization said in May.

Chinese cigarettes are among the cheapest in the world and a packet can cost as little as $0.08.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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