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Expo should say no to tobacco money
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For Shanghai, organizer of the World Expo 2010, the good and bad come together.

The US struck a last-minute deal on Friday to participate in the show. The news of attendance, first announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on July 1, was a big face-saving move for both the US and the Shanghai host.

The city is spending 30 billion yuan (US$4.4 billion) on its largest facelift - paving roads, painting building facades and upgrading drainage systems - in order to present to the world a splendid Shanghai at least as attractive as Beijing during the Olympics.

Yet only a day after the inking of the US contract, some 20 Chinese public health experts petitioned the Bureau of Shanghai World Expo Coordination to return the 200 million yuan donated to the China Pavilion by the Shanghai Tobacco (Group) Corp on May 7. It was the largest contribution since the China Pavilion kicked off its donation program in December 2007.

Health experts believe the donation is a serious violation of China's commitment to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

FCTC came into effect on January 9, 2006, after being ratified by the National People's Congress. Article 13 of the convention requires parties to impose a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to reduce consumption of tobacco products.

However, the article gives participating countries five years to fully implement the provisions. That means the Shanghai Expo organizer could still find excuse to ignore FCTC before it is enforced nationwide in 2011.

Health experts, who were meeting in Beijing to promote FCTC, hope the Shanghai Expo will follow the lead given by Beijing Olympics to stay away from tobacco money.

However, these health experts may not be aware of the Shanghai financial authorities' dependence on the tobacco industry.

The State-owned Shanghai Tobacco Corp has long been a top revenue contributor to the government coffer. In times past, there were occasions when the city leaders would rush to the company in person in order to fill the revenue gap.

As a result, the tobacco firm has been fully protected and emboldened, such as ignoring the recent public protest of its controversial "I love Chung Hwa" ads. Chung Hwa (meaning Chinese) is a popular, high-priced brand of cigarettes.

The addiction to tobacco money has also made Shanghai half-hearted about anti-smoking campaigns. After decades of effort, for example, the city is still trying to figure out how to ban smoking in hospitals and the city hall.

Compared to its enforcement capability during SARS and zeal in going ahead with the Expo construction, Shanghai's resolve to fight smoking is, at best, lip service.

Shanghai has been keen on joining major international cities in its aspiration to become a global financial and shipping hub, yet it has never shown much interest in the smoking ban adopted by those world cities.

The Expo organizer has been aggressively promoting the fair's environment-friendly factors. Just a month ago it published a comprehensive green guideline for participants, operators and visitors.

Yet the 200 million yuan of tobacco money would not only taint the color green, but also run counter to the Shanghai Expo slogan of "Better City, Better Life".

The Shanghai Expo organizer has a tough decision to make. Does it want to continue its long affair with the tobacco industry? Does it want to undermine China's anti-smoking campaign? Does it want the Expo to be associated with the country's 350 million smokers and 1 million deaths from smoking-related diseases each year?

These should not be difficult questions for Shanghai to answer.

(China Daily July 14, 2009)

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