A man smokes in front of a 'no smoking' sign outside a
shopping mall in Shanghai. REUTERS/Aly Song/Files
Intense lobbying by China's powerful state tobacco
monopoly resulted in the weakening of controversial legislation
that had been meant to introduce a complete advertising ban in
the world's largest consumer and producer of tobacco, sources
The proposed total advertising ban pitted anti-smoking
advocates and the health ministry, which blames cigarettes
for causing one million deaths in China a year, against the
State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.
So far the tobacco monopoly has won, with China's largely
rubberstamp parliament, the National People's Congress,
retaining a partial ban after discussions last week.
The administration controls 98 percent of China's vast
cigarette market. It wields extraordinary power because it
provides an estimated 7-10 percent of government revenues in
China - as much as 816 billion yuan ($132.87 billion) in
State news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday that Chinese
lawmakers had called for a complete ban on tobacco
advertisements during discussions on amendments to the
20-year-old Advertisement Law, including all media and public
However, five sources have told Reuters that, before the bill
was submitted to the parliament, the state tobacco monopoly
managed to remove a complete ban and block efforts to
reintroduce it despite the health ministry's backing,
demonstrating the power that it wields in Beijing.
With more than 300 million smokers, that is not surprising.
China faces a smoking-related health crisis but cigarettes
are part of the social fabric, and more than half of Chinese
smokers buy them at less than 5 yuan, or about 80 U.S. cents,
One said the tobacco monopoly, through its parent the
Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, blocked
efforts to reintroduce a full advertising ban in the draft
bill passed at a cabinet meeting in June.
Another source confirmed there was disagreement among the
ministries over the advertising ban during the closed-door
The June meeting was chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, whose
younger brother, Li Keming, has served as a deputy head of
the tobacco monopoly since 2003.
The watered-down rules will likely take effect by the end of
this year after they are passed by the parliament, sources
The state tobacco monopoly and the health ministry did not
respond to requests for comment. China's tobacco monopoly has
previously blocked other measures such as the introduction of
graphic warnings on cigarette packages.
Studies show that partial advertising bans have little effect
on reducing smoking rates.
While agreeing to prohibit more forms of tobacco advertising,
the bill stops well short of the full ban advocated by the
health ministry. The draft includes a limited list of
restrictions such as in public transport venues, electronic
publications, libraries and parks, according to Xinhua.
Excluded from the ban, however, will be promotional
activities such as cigarette product launches, and tobacco
sponsorship for sporting events and schools - despite the
World Health Organization urging China to implement a
comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and
sponsorship, according to the five sources involved in the
"Resistance to the advertising law amendment mainly came from
tobacco stakeholders, especially the tobacco industry," said
Jiang Yuan, deputy director of Tobacco Control Office of the
state-run Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention,
who advises lawmakers.
Since 2008, the tobacco monopoly has argued against
amendments suggested by lawmakers by saying that rules should
"suit China's national conditions", one of the sources said.
It has also argued that cigarettes should be given
"reasonable space for promotion" because they are legal
products and that tobacco advertising should be "restricted,
In 2007, a deputy director at the monopoly said demand for
tobacco was very large, and that a crackdown on tobacco use
would affect China's social stability.
Under the current law, tobacco advertising is prohibited on
radio, film, television, newspapers and magazines, and in
public areas such as theatres and sports arenas. Billboards
promoting cigarettes can still be seen along Chinese roads
and, despite restrictions, tobacco ads are on websites,
television, newspapers, and on the side of football fields.
Tobacco marketing even targets schools. Some primary schools
are named after tobacco industry donors, mostly local
branches of the tobacco monopoly, with slogans on campus
walls such as "tobacco helps you become a useful person".