BEIJING - Smoking is commonly depicted on films and TV and could mislead young people into associating the habit with glamour, according to supporters of tobacco control.
While smoking scenes on TV did not constitute outright tobacco advertisements, they could easily mislead adolescents and leave them with a wrong understanding of the health implications, Yang Gonghuan, director of the National Tobacco Control Office, said.
"A decrease in such screen shots will be good for protecting the young from tobacco," Yang said.
Smoking features regularly on TV and one recent night's viewing provides an example.
Reporters monitored seven television channels on Jan 4, and during the peak viewing hours from 8 pm to 10 pm, there were 49 screen shots of smoking from four TV series.
However, these findings are only a part of the bigger picture.
The Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC), a non-profit organization, issued a report in August 2010 after monitoring 40 domestic Chinese movies and 30 local TV series.
The results indicated that smoking scenes appeared in 31 movies, with an average of 15 screen shots per movie, while smoking scenes were found in 28 TV series, with an average of 85 screen shots.
According to a survey by the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which was conducted among 11,000 middle school students, more than 40 percent of those surveyed thought that smoking could make actors look mature and charming, while nearly 60 percent of the students supported or did not object to on-screen smoking scenes.
Tobacco control activists are concerned that young people might follow the behavior of their screen idols.
The Beijing Municipal CDC survey also showed that 32.87 percent of middle school students said they would like to try smoking after seeing actors light up on TV.
On top of this, 60 percent of senior students at vocational high schools reported that they could be influenced, especially when actors who smoke on TV are superstars.
But tobacco-related products do not always need someone to light up in movies or on TV.
During their Jan 4 research, reporters also found some of China's major tobacco brands are promoting themselves by just the mention of brand names.
While tobacco advertisements are banned on radio, TV and the print media, China still has no concrete laws or regulations to prohibit tobacco companies from sponsoring activities such as auto racing, Yang said.
The failure to prevent tobacco companies from gaining publicity through sponsoring events has prevented China from meeting the requirements of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which called for tighter sponsorship measures, Yang said.
The CATC said it has submitted proposals to authorities calling for the creation of films and TV series free of smoking scenes and banning all forms of product or image promotion of tobacco brands.