Late in 2014, Beijing made international headlines when it enacted sweeping reforms regarding smoking and the advertising of cigarettes. The statutes are planned to go into effect in June 2015 and will be the most stringent anti-tobacco laws in the country. It now appears Yunnan province — the heart of Chinese tobacco country — may soon follow suit.
At meeting of the Yunnan Tobacco Control Agencies (YTCA) held March 18, delegates adopted a draft resolution advocating a complete ban on "tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship". Modeled in part on the Beijing plan, the recommendation also uses language taken from the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, of which China is a 2003 signatory.
As with the laws soon to go into effect in China's capital, the YTCA blueprint is wide-ranging as concerns media. In part, it states:
A draft of the newly revised "Advertising Law" expressly prohibits the use of radio, film, television, newspapers, publications, mobile communication networks and other forms of mass media to publish or release tobacco advertising...leaving no space for tobacco industry propaganda.
Noticeably absent in the language used by YTCA are any mentions of restricting smoking by consumers in public places — a hallmark of the Beijing statutes. This may be a reflection of reality in Yunnan, where people routinely smoke cigarettes not only in public places such as restaurants, but also in elevators, taxis and doctor's offices.
Whether the YTCA recommendations will be adopted into law by the Yunnan People's Congress remains to be seen. However, the situation highlights the difficulty and inherent conflict of interest arising any time China legislates tobacco. Laws restricting the advertisement of cigarettes are designed to have at least some negative affect on overall sales. This means the government is, in effect, legislating itself out of money each time anti-smoking edicts affecting China's 250 million smokers are enacted.
The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, as its name implies, controls virtually every facet of the cigarette industry and is an enormous cash cow for Beijing. Revenue from cigarette sales by the country's number one producer, China National Tobacco Corporation, topped US$170 billion in 2012, which would place it fifth on Forbes Fortune 500 list for the same year amongst publicly traded companies.
Further complicating matters in Yunnan is the province's entrenched and somewhat co-dependent relationship with the tobacco industry. Less than four years ago, government statistics showed Yunnan generated more than 45 percent of its total tax receipts from the production and sales of tobacco.
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