Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in China

World No Tobacco Day, 2013

On 31 May every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) marks World No Tobacco Day, to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use, and advocate for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death globally, currently responsible for approximately 6 million deaths each year. In China, approximately one million deaths every year are directly caused by tobacco – around one in six tobacco-related deaths worldwide.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2013 is: ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

What is Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship?

Tobacco companies around the world use a range of direct and indirect approaches to promote tobacco products and tobacco use. These approaches can broadly be classified into two categories:

  • tobacco advertising and promotion, which is any form of commercial communication, recommendation or action; and
  • tobacco sponsorship, which is any form of contribution to any event, activity or individual.

Why ban Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship?

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) requires a comprehensive ban of all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

This is because tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are known to increase tobacco use. Tobacco marketing increases smoking initiation among young people, and even brief exposure to tobacco marketing can influence adolescents: around one-third of youth experimentation with tobacco occurs as a result of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. 1

The international evidence shows that comprehensive marketing bans lead to reductions in the numbers of people starting and continuing smoking. Comprehensive bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are therefore particularly important for protecting young people.

Banning all forms of tobacco marketing is one of the most cost-effective measures governments can take to reduce demand for tobacco products, and in doing so, protect the health of their populations.

Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship in China

In China, the Advertising Law bans tobacco advertising in the mass media, including through radio, movies, TV, newspapers and magazines, as well as in public places such as waiting rooms, theaters, conference halls and sports centers.

However, outdoor tobacco advertising, including on billboards, is not explicitly banned – and is allowable in some circumstances. Point of sale and internet tobacco advertising may also be allowed. ‘New media’ including microblogs are beyond the scope of the existing Advertising Law.

Direct advertising bans are not always complied with. Tobacco products are also sometimes still promoted through indirect forms of advertising and marketing, such as sponsorship of organisations and events; and ‘brand stretching’ or brand extension – the use of tobacco brand names on non-tobacco merchandise or services.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) conducted in China in 2010:

  • 19.6 per cent – or 1 in 5 adults – reported that they had noticed tobacco advertising, promotions or sponsorships through the media or in public places during the 30 days prior to the survey;
  • A higher proportion of young people (aged 15-24 years) – 27.5 per cent – reported noticing tobacco advertising, promotions or sponsorships in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Tobacco advertisements were noticed most on television, followed by billboards, stores, newspapers and magazines, and on posters. In addition to direct advertisements, 3.5 per cent of adults surveyed by the GATS reported noticing tobacco sponsorship of sport or sporting events.

GATS China 2010: Percentage of adults who noticed cigarette marketing during the last 30 days
GATS China 2010: Percentage of adults who noticed cigarette marketing during the last 30 days

Other studies have shown very high levels of exposure to indirect promotion of cigarette smoking through the entertainment media in China: according to the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project, 81 per cent of smokers and 85 per cent of non-smokers report having seen people smoking in the entertainment media ‘often’ or ‘once in a while’.2

How does China compare to other countries?

Despite the effectiveness of comprehensive bans, according to the most recent WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, in 2010 only 6 per cent of the world’s population was fully protected from exposure to tobacco industry advertising, promotion and sponsorship tactics.

Of the 195 countries included in the WHO Global Report on the Tobacco Epidemic, China is among the approximately 60 per cent of countries which had only some form of ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in 2010 (but which is not the recommended ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship).

However, analysis conducted for the WHO Global Report on the Tobacco Epidemic found that compliance with bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in China is only moderate. Accordingly, there is considerable room for improvement.

Reforming tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in China

Some important steps towards strengthening restrictions on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in China have been taken in recent years, for example:

  • In February 2011, the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV announced strict controls on the portrayal of smoking in movies and TV serials;
  • In December 2012, the Government of China issued the China National Tobacco Control Plan 2012-2015, which includes a strong commitment to strengthening existing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The China National Tobacco Control Plan includes an ambitious target of reducing the adult smoking rate from the 2010 rate of 28.1 per cent, to 25 per cent in 2015: a relative reduction of approximately 10 per cent. The Plan also sets an even more ambitious target for reducing the youth smoking rate, from 11.5 per cent to below 7.5 per cent in 2015 – a relative reduction of almost 35 per cent.

Strong policies to reduce demand for tobacco, including through comprehensive bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, will help China to achieve its national targets for reducing smoking rates.

The available evidence suggests there is strong public support for strengthening restrictions on tobacco marketing in China: according to the China International Tobacco Control Project, “68 per cent of smokers and 84 per cent of non-smokers say they ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ that tobacco companies should be allowed to advertise and promote cigarettes as they please”.3

Tobacco in China

Implementing a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is needed to help reduce the burden of death and disease caused by very high consumption of tobacco in China:

  • There are more than 300 million smokers in China, nearly one-third of the world's total;
  • 28.1 per cent of the adult population (aged 15 years+) are smokers, including 52.9 per cent of men and 2.4 per cent of women;
  • More than half (52.7 per cent) of smokers aged 20-34 years started smoking daily before the age of 20;
  • Someone in China dies approximately every 30 seconds because of tobacco use; or around 3000 people die every day;
  • Tobacco use is a leading cause of the growing burden of non-communicable diseases – such as cardiovascular disease and cancer;
  • If the prevalence of tobacco use in China is not reduced, the number of tobacco-related deaths every year in China will increase to 3 million by 2050.

For more information, please contact

Helen Yu
Communications Officer, WHO in China
Tel: +86 10 65327191
E-mail: yuji@wpro.who.int


1. Emery S, Choi WS, Pierce JP. The social costs of tobacco advertising and promotions. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 1999, 1 Suppl 2: S83-91.
2. International Tobacco Control (ITC) Project and Office of Tobacco Control (China CDC). ITC Project Report. Findings from Wave 1 to 3 Surveys (2006-2009). University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and Office of Tobacco Control, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing, China.
3. ITC Project and Office of Tobacco Control (China CDC). ITC Project Report. Findings from Wave 1 to 3 Surveys (2006-2009).

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