• Andrew Collins

Anti-Smoking Campaign Gathers Speed In China

A new social media campaign aimed at reducing the number of tobacco users is taking shape in China. With the incidence of tobacco related illnesses on the rise, the new campaign is spearheaded by Olympic swimmer Feng Zhe and a cameo by Bill Gates, in an effort to raise awareness about the potentially serious health effects of smoking.

With a population approaching 1.4 billion, around 300 million of those are tobacco users. 740 million are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis and alarmingly, one third of lung cancer patients live in China. What makes addressing this problem difficult is that most tobacco users rely on state-owned companies for their nicotine fix. Taking on the tobacco industry means taking on the government and its powerful political allies. In addition to this, the prevailing attitude to smoking is one of indifference. A smoking ban came into effect three years ago and yet one can still easily find people smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places.

In light of this, the draft of a national regulation has recently been released with proposed bans on smoking indoors and heavy fines for those who break the rules. However, what is likely to be more effective is the social media campaign targeting the younger demographics in the hopes of raising awareness about the effects of secondhand smoking. With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the campaign uses the tagline ‘Say No to Forced Smoking’ in an effort to tackle the problem of passive smoking as well as tobacco users. In the song of the same name, released this week by Feng Zhe, Bill Gates makes a cameo appearance in the accompanying music video that has so far received widespread coverage with over 40 million hits.

Social media can facilitate conversation and helps to disseminate ideas rapidly and in ways that people can better understand and relate to. Spreading the idea that smoking is not ‘cool’ is a key part of this campaign. People can submit their own anti-smoking videos and sayings which will be broadcast by the UN health body in China, including through its Sina Weibo account. Viewers can vote for their favourite one and the winner will be granted an internship with the WHO.

This anti-smoking campaign forms part of a wider initiative. President Xi Jinping met with Bill Gates last year at the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan province where Xi reaffirmed China’s intention to increase its efforts to control smoking among other health concerns. In the current climate, maintaining and increasing economic productivity is challenging, and so the link between health and economic development becomes increasingly important, particularly in countries that are still developing. As key human development indicators diverge more and more, increasing social investment in order to create a healthy and educated workforce is paramount.

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