Group wants to stub out film smoke

China still the leading producer and consumer of cigarettes

BEIJING -- An anti-smoking group is asking tobacco products be banned from starring roles in films and television programs shown in China, the country whose government produces more cigarettes than any other nation on Earth.
Citing concerns for the health of the China's youth, the non-governmental Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC) has called for tobacco-free TV and film in a push to deglamorize smoking.
Industry statistics show that Chinese people consume more about 30% of the cigarettes made worldwide.
With growing incomes and a boom in modern multiplexes in the country's biggest cities, more and more Chinese are shelling out for theater tickets costing an average of 35 yuan ($5.12) and as much as 80 yuan ($11.70). Still, a carton of cigarettes -- 10 packs for 70 yuan ($10.24) -- is a considered a good gift for many occasion.
Due to a current lack of legislative control and scant education about the risks of smoking, many scenes in TV and films shown in China are clouded with smoke.
This has a negative impact on viewers, particularly on minors who are not mature and tend to follow and mirror others, Xu Guihua, deputy director of Beijing-based CATC, told the official China Daily newspaper.
Consider, for instance, that China's 350 million smokers outnumber the combined populations of Germany, Japan and Russia and their habit kills about a million people per year, costing about $5 billion in annual doctors bills, Ministry of Health statistics show.
But any anti-smoking challenge could be stubbed out by the fact that the state-run China National Tobacco Co. is by sales the largest single manufacturer of tobacco products in the world, boasting a virtual market monopoly in China. The industry contributes more than $30 billion to the government each year.
Still, based on a new study jointly commissioned by CATC and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that 69% of 144 hits at China's boxoffice studied from 2004 to 2009 -- including 66 imports -- showed scenes of cigarette or cigar smoking.
Director Chen Kaige's 2008 blockbuster "Forever Enthralled" ("Mei Lanfang"), about China's most famous opera performer, was "contaminated" with 14.3 minutes of smoking, nearly 11.8% of the film's running time, Yang Jie, CDC deputy director of the tobacco control, told the newspaper.
This year, "Red River," by director Zhang Jiarui and produced by IDG China Film, has the smokiest onscreen presence, at 7.6 minutes, the study showed.

Smoking was a problem for the producers of the 2008 film "The Equation of Love and Death," in which a down-and-out taxi driver, played by actress Zhou Xun, lights up in nearly every scene.
More than 76% of Chinese-made films contain smoking scenes, compared with one-third of the films imported into China, Yang said.