The Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC) on Wednesday called for tobacco-free TV and film screens in China, in an attempt to take the glamour out of smoking, especially for impressionable young people.
Currently, due to a lack of legislation and low awareness, many scenes in TV series and films - including those produced in China and those imported - contain smoking scenes, which has a negative impact on viewers, particularly on minors who are not mature and tend to follow and mirror others, said Xu Guihua, deputy director of CATC, a Beijing-based non-governmental organization.
The conclusion is based on studies jointly commissioned by CATC and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Xu told China Daily.
Of 144 box-office hit movies from 2004 to 2009, 66 of which were imported, about 69 percent contain tobacco-related scenes such as people smoking a cigarette or cigar, with ash tray or lighters in the background, the study found.
Among all of the movies "contaminated" with tobacco-related contents, the 2008 blockbuster Mei Lanfang, directed by leading Chinese director Chen Kaige, ranked at the top with 14.3 minutes of smoking, nearly 11.8 percent of the entire movie time, said Yang Jie, deputy director of the tobacco control office under CDC.
Red River, another Chinese film, which premiered in April, has the longest smoking scene this year: 7.6 minutes, according to the study.
More than 76 percent of the Chinese films contain smoking scenes, compared with one-third of imported films, Yang noted.
Nearly all tobacco-related scenes show smoking in a positive or neutral light, the study showed.
One actor who was forced to smoke in films is now a volunteer for the anti-tobacco cause.
"I became a smoker at 22 because the director wanted my character, a successful detective, to smoke while thinking over complicated crimes in the film," said Beijing-based actor Feng Yuanzheng, one of CATC's anti-tobacco volunteers.
Sometimes, a smoking scene seems inevitable because the real-life characters, such as Chairman Mao Zedong, were smokers, Feng said.
However, the smoking could be left out in 70 percent of the smoking movies because the smoking has nothing to do with the plot, Yang said.
Directors include smoking in their productions because they receive "contributions" from tobacco companies, Feng said.
"The practice of including smoking in scenes will help tobacco companies foster more customers, especially the young," Xu warned.
Research shows that young people aged 13 to 18, who often see smoking in movies and TVs, are 16 times more likely to become smokers than those who don't see smoking scenes.
"To protect children, tobacco-free screens are very important," Yang said.
He urged the government to enact laws to make films tobacco-free.
The education of TV and film producers is also important to achieve a smoke-free screen, Xu said.
"Movie and TV administrators should also beef up supervision over productions for tobacco control," she said.
Movies with tobacco scenes should be denied the opportunity to compete in any awards, she added.
The group's latest proposal comes after it successfully pressured the 2010 Shanghai World Expo organizers to reject a 200 million yuan (US$29 million) donation from a local tobacco producer last week.
(China Daily July 30, 2009)