Shanghai Tobacco Group Co. – a top Chinese cigarette manufacturer – has taken it one step further, with billboards for their tobacco product proclaiming “Love China”. The slogan is a play on one variation of the word “China” in Chinese : “Chunghwa”, which is also the name of one of Shanghai Tobacco’s top brands.
The Chinese characters for both are identical. These cigarettes are much more expensive than other brands and are often given as holiday gifts.
These scarlet Love China billboards and posters feature no images of cigarettes, only of Beijing’s historic Tianenmen Gate, the entrance to the Forbidden city.
One wonders the parallels that the advertising tries to draw.
The billboards also carry the warning: “Smoking can damage your health” – signalling that the slogan refers both to China and the cigarette brand. While the pun is clever, such insidious forms of advertising would be outlawed in the heavily controlled tobacco advertising of the West. The Chinese government (currently) imposes no such ruling.
In what seemed like a turn in the tide, the billboard came up during a meeting in January during the annual session of local legislature – and some lawmakers proposed that these billboards be banned, stated the Shanghai Daily, a state-run newspaper.
Surprisingly, the slogan’s pun received mixed messages – “The slogan ‘Love Our China’ is good, but when producers put ‘Smoking can damage your health’ beside it, the message amounts to an advertisement,” the Shanghai Daily quoted local lawmaker Li Ming as saying.
“All advertising related to tobacco or tobacco companies must be banned,” Li continued.
Wu Zhenwei, a congress deputy from the Shanghai Administration of Work Safety, wants law makers to decide whether the love China campaign constitutes tobacco advertising. It wasn’t clear exactly when that action might occur, however.
The Shanghai Tobacco (Group) Corp, producer of the Chunghwa brand, said the slogan promotes patriotism and is therefore a public service campaign, according to Wu.
Phone calls to Shanghai Tobacco’s marketing department by the Shanghai Daily rang unanswered.
The same WHO Fact Sheet highlights some interesting facts about how cigarette advertising has changed globally:
– Through advertising, tobacco firms try to link smoking with athletic prowess, sexual attractiveness, success, adult sophistication, adventure and self-fulfilment.
– The tobacco industry has changed the way it advertises in the last 30 years. Now, only 10% of advertising expenditure goes to print and outdoor advertisements, while more than half goes to promotional allowances and items, such as t-shirts for young people or lighters and key rings.
China has the world’s largest population of smokers at 350 million, and the government receives a large amount of revenues from state-owned tobacco companies. However, health risks from smoking are widely acknowledged to be a serious public health problem.
Shanghai famously banned tobacco billboards during last summer’s Beijing Olympic games, but that embargo has since been lifted.
China has signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which commits it to banning all types of tobacco advertising by 2011. This has not stopped Shanghai Tobacco, who are currently building a $730 million new production line for its Chunghwa brand that will have an annual capacity of 50 billion cigarettes when completed.
The plan is considered a major city construction project that is expected to yield more 50 billion yuan ($7.3 billion) in tax revenues and create more than 500 jobs, according to state media reports.