China is considering tough curbs on tobacco advertising as the world’s top consumer of cigarettes looks to kick the habit, state media reported on Monday.
A parliamentary committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) is weighing up an amendment to China’s advertising law that would protect minors from harmful adverts, including cigarette ads, the Xinhua news agency said.
If the amendment is approved, all such ads will be banned except those posted in tobacco shops, Xinhua said, citing an official at the NPC law committee.
Ads would be banned in public places, hospitals and schools. They would also be forbidden on public transport facilities, the report said. Outdoor ads and window displays for tobacco products would be forbidden.
The amendment comes as the state council, China’s cabinet, is also considering a ban on indoor smoking.
But intense lobbying by the powerful state tobacco monopoly has in the past stood in the way of controls. China faces a health crisis, with more than 300 million smokers and hundreds of millions more exposed to second-hand smoke each year.
But the government is heavily dependent on tobacco taxes, and last year the tobacco industry contributed more than 816 billion yuan (£84bn) to government coffers.
Judith Mackay, a Hong Kong-based senior adviser to the World Lung Foundation, said that that the Chinese government dramatically hardened its stance on tobacco control in spring last year after the Central Party School, an influential research institute in Beijing, published a 240-page tome called Tobacco Control: International Experience and China’s Strategy.
Officials understand that they “have a massive problem in terms of economic burden and early death, and it’s only going to get worse”, Mackay said.
Since March last year, China’s cabinet, education ministry, health ministry, commerce ministry and the People’s Liberation Army have at least proposed regulations to restrict smoking in schools, hospitals, government offices and the military.
Mackay noted that China’s president, Xi Jinping, directed the Central Party School in the years it was developing the report. Since Xi became president in 2012, he has cemented a reputation as the country’s most powerful top leader in decades.
“It’s all just coming together, and I think Xi Jinping has made a big difference in that,” Mackay said.
“This is a sea change of attitudes as well as political will just blowing through the country now. They have seven or eight things in motion at the moment. I’m very optimistic about all of this.”