China is home to 300 million smokers and the country’s enduring love affair with tobacco is reflected in the numbers of characters sparking up on-screen, according to the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.
“Improvements were seen in 2013, but we are still a far cry from tobacco-free screens in a country where the smoking rate has continued to increase among the young and among women,” Xu Guihua, deputy director of the association, told the China Daily newspaper.
A survey of 60 dramatic works showed fewer smoking scenes than in previous years – 63 percent of movies contained smoking scenes, down 23.4 percentage points from 2007, she said.
China has been stepping up efforts to restrict smoking in recent years, including banning tobacco advertising and sponsorships of major sporting events, although bars and restaurants are routinely cloaked in smoke as people ignore the rules.
Smoking scenes averaged 66 total seconds in the movies films, down roughly 60 percent from 2007, the survey found.
Of 30 films surveyed, 19 contained smoking scenes, a total of 308 scenes, for a total of 1,257 seconds of playing time, according to the survey, which has been carried out every year since 2007.
Of Chinese TV dramas, half of the 30 domestically made TV series polled were smoke free. In 2007, 90 percent contained smoking scenes.
In 2011, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued an order requiring producers to only show smoking when necessary for artistic reasons and to minimize plots involving tobacco, but violations are common.
The rules say that minors under age 18 cannot be shown smoking or buying cigarettes, and characters may not smoke in public buildings or other places where smoking is banned.
The Hong Kong thriller The White Storm had the most smoking scenes, with 53 scenes lasting 230 seconds in the police story, accounting for 2.8 percent of its total length — an average of one smoking scene for every 2.58 minutes of the film.
The worst offender among TV dramas was Finding The Path, an historical drama about the Chinese revolution led by Chairman Mao Zedong, himself an avid smoker.
There were 484 smoking scenes in the 44-episode series, an average of about 11 per episode, it said.
Yao Hongwen, a spokesperson for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, called for change.
“Adolescents are highly susceptible to the influence of smoking scenes in films and TV series, particularly those starring their idols,” Yao said.
China has more than 130 million adolescents, of whom 15 million smoke, and more than 40 million once tried lighting up, he said.
One of the problems with stamping out smoking is that the China National Tobacco Corp., the state-run cash cow that holds an effective monopoly on the industry, is one of the country’s biggest tax payer.