Chinese Authorities Look to Snuff Out New Movie Menace: Smoking

The government is working to cut smoking scenes out of television and movies, which will lead to resistance from the country’s powerful tobacco industry.

BEIJING – Media authorities in China have again raised a stink about smoking depicted on screen, ordering producers to stub out cinematic cigarettes to help rein in the country’s rampant use of tobacco.

China produces -- and its people consume -- more tobacco products than any other country in the world. Chinese also see plenty of smoking in their average filmed entertainment. No surprise considering the business is a state-run cash cow that paid roughly $75 billion in taxes to the one-party Chinese government in 2010, State Tobacco Monopoly Administration data shows.

So the order this week from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television saying that film and TV producers should cut scenes involving tobacco to a bare minimum might meet some resistance.

After all, the Monopoly that oversees the tobacco industry also oversees the China National Tobacco Corp., the state-run cigarette maker that produced 2.3 trillion cigarettes in 2009 and paid all those taxes. 

Still, SARFT -- which clears all film and TV in China -- said that minors cannot be shown smoking or buying cigarettes and film and TV characters cannot smoke in public buildings or other places where smoking is banned.

"Frequent smoking scenes in films and TV dramas do not accord with China's stance on tobacco control and mislead the public, especially the youth," SARFT said.

A recent survey by the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, showed students tend to smoke after seeing actors smoke on TV or in films. Sixty-nine percent of the 144 hits at China's box office from 2004 to 2009 showed scenes of cigarette or cigar smoking, a study by the non-profit China Association on Tobacco Control the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed.

Tobacco use is linked to the deaths of at least one million people every year in China, where 300 million people, or nearly 30 percent of adults, smoke. Still, a carton of cigarettes -- 10 packs for 70 yuan ($10.62) -- is a considered a good gift for many occasions in China. A carton costs less than movie tickets in most big cities, which go for as much as 80 yuan ($12.14) each.