Cigarette ads: patriotic or simply advertising? That’s the question that Shanghai lawmakers are currently considering. They’d like to ban billboards by Shanghai Tobacco Corporation. The billboards ask people to love China (爱我中华 Ai Wo Zhonghua, or “Love my China”), but Zhonghua is also the name of one of Shanghai Tobacco’s brands.
The Shanghai People’s Congress says the billboards are tobacco advertising and should be banned, but Shanghai Tobacco says they are public service announcements and should be allowed to stay.
Shanghai Tobacco isn’t the only company to appeal to national symbols. Huangshan cigarettes, produced by Bengbu Cigarette Factory, are advertised using the image of Anhui’s Huangshan (Yellow Mountain).
Neither is patriotism a new marketing trend. Take a look back at events over the last year – be it the anti-French riots, the Sichuan earthquake or the Olympics – and commerce was right there, next to nationalist sentiment (usually in the form of “I ♥ China” t-shirts).
But one does have to question the motives of Shanghai legislators. Although – or maybe because – China has the largest number of smokers in the world, and there are very few places that you can’t light up here, the country has signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. That means it’s committed to banning all tobacco promotion by 2010. But one has to wonder if that’s the legislators’ true motive. There is another event in 2010 that is probably more important – the Shanghai World Expo. The Expo’s slogan is “Better City – Better Life,” and a city with thinly veiled cigarette ads could be viewed as going against the Expo’s spirit.
Whatever the legislators’ motives, banning the ads is admirable, especially if it’s permanent. What would be a better step is strict enforcement of the city’s no smoking laws. I’d love to be able to ride the lift to my apartment without having to tap the no smoking sign on the wall and have my fellow passenger completely ignore me while taking a drag on his Zhonghua.