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China: More Control of Smoking on Screen

(Feb. 23, 2011) On February 12, 2011, the General Office of China's State Administration for Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) issued a circular on controlling smoking scenes in movie and television productions. According to the circular, “[f]requent smoking scenes in films and TV dramas do not accord with China's stance on tobacco control and mislead the public, especially the youth.” It further states that such productions should not be permitted to show tobacco brands or signs or to include smoking scenes in which the young appear and that scenes that have to portray smoking should be “as short as possible.” (China's Move to Reduce Smoking Scenes on Screens Receives Welcome, CHINA DAILY (Feb. 15, 2011), More specifically, the circular makes the following three points.

1) In movies and television programs, tobacco brands and symbols and related content, as well as subliminal tobacco advertisements, may not be shown; no scenes can show smoking in places where the state has prohibited smoking and where signs prohibit smoking; minors cannot be portrayed purchasing tobacco or smoking and in other situations connected with tobacco; and smoking scenes in which minors are present also may not be shown.

2) In order to tightly control smoking scenes presented on the pretext of “artistic necessity” or “to convey character,” every effort should be made to use other forms of representation of the plot, in place of smoking, to convey the character's psychology and a location's atmosphere; the utmost should be done to reduce the length and frequency of smoking scenes when such scenes are presented due to real plot requirements.

3) All province-level radio, film, and TV administrative departments, central TV stations, and the Arts Office of the Propaganda Department of the [Central Military Commission's] General Political Department must attach a high degree of importance to the impact of films and television programs as a model for the whole society in controlling tobacco, conscientiously undertake the responsibility for supervision and inspection, actively promote tobacco-free programs among film and TV show production agencies under their jurisdiction, and steer directors and actors away from shooting smoking scenes. Every province-level film censorship agency and TV program broadcast agency must strengthen film censorship and TV show pre-broadcast censorship and, to the greatest extent possible, censor out the smoking scenes. Films and TV programs in which there are relatively many smoking scenes will not be included in the various judging activities on excellence in films and TV programs conducted by SARFT.

The circular took effect on the day of its promulgation. At the same time, the September. 25, 2009, SARFT Circular on Strictly Controlling Smoking Scenes in TV Programs (No. 43 of 2009) was annulled. (SARFT General Office Circular on Strictly Controlling Smoking Scenes in Films and Television Programs [in Chinese], SARFT website (Feb. 12, 2011),