Warning Pictures on Cigarettes

BEIJING — China’s tobacco control authorities are seeking support from netizens to urge producers to print warning pictures on cigarette packaging, trying to set an agenda for the coming parliamentary and political advisory sessions.

    The netizens’ opinions will be submitted to national political advisors before they meet in March for their annual full meeting to call for more effective tobacco control efforts, organizers said.

    The National Tobacco Control Office (NTCO) initiated the move with several Web sites on Monday to ask the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration to ensure that harms of tobacco are clearly specified on the packs with pictures.

    In China, although cigarette packs carry characters that read “smoking is harmful to your health”, 70 percent of consumers are still ignorant or numb to the warning, according to a survey by the office last year.

    The survey sampled 16,521 people in 40 cities and counties of 20 provinces. The result suggested that specifying tobacco’s harms with eye-catching pictures could help more than 90 percent of consumers give up the idea of giving others cigarettes as gift.

    According to Wu Yiqun, executive vice director of the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, many foreign cigarette packings bear shocking pictures showing the consequences of smoking.

    “In the Great Britain, for instance, picture on a cigarette pack is a smoker with throat cancer. In Brazil, the picture is heart operation. In Australia, the pack shows black and yellow teeth of a smoker,” Wu said.

    “Even exported Chinese tobacco has different packs from that sold in domestic markets,” Wu said, showing a Zhonghua cigarette pack for overseas consumers with a picture of a smoker’s ulcerated foot, which is invisible on the red packing of the same brand for domestic smokers.

    Zhonghua, with an ornamental column on its packing, like those on the Tian’anmen Square in Beijing, is often taken as a symbol of social status and given as a gift, Wu said.

    Yang Gonghuan, vice director with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that each year, 8.4 million people died in China, among whom 12 percent, or about one million, died of disease connected with tobacco–lung cancer, throat cancer, coronary heart disease, brain stroke, tuberculosis and sudden death of the new-born.

    “As smokers are becoming younger, this percentage will soar to 33 percent by 2050. That means about half of the male smokers shall die of smoking-related diseases,” Yang said.