China Restricts Movie & TV Smoking. Is That The Best You’ve Got?

February 13, 2011

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television said on its official website Saturday that it has issued an announcement to ban inappropriate smoking scenes in movies and TV shows.

The announcement said smoking scenes are out of line with the country’s stance on tobacco control, and are misleading to the public, especially minors. Thus it is prohibiting scenes of cigarette brands, people smoking at smoke-free places, minors buying and smoking cigarettes, and other smoking scenes associated with minors. (China Daily)

My conclusion: weak!

Yes, smoking is a big problem in this country, and it’s high time that the government started to do something about it. But we’ve seen this sort of thing in other countries, like the US, where although anti-smoking policies are effective, they take many years to kick in.

What are my specific problems here:

1. Artistic expression — if someone wants to make a movie that has a douche bag in it smoking a ciggie, let ‘em. Government regulation of content like that should be avoided whenever possible, particularly when better policy choices are out there.

2. Scenes are ‘misleading’ — what the hell does that even mean, anyway? Misleading? A guy is shown smoking a cigarette; he inhales, gets a buzz, game over. Where’s the false statement here? If we were instead talking about the standards set forth in China’s Advertising Law (something I know a bit about), then there are no false claims made on screen when a guy is shown smoking.

Now, if this were an advert that said smoking is healthy, or that smoking will not increase your risk of lung cancer, than sure, I’d say that the AIC should pull that bastard as quickly as possible. (The AIC is the regulator with primary responsibility for ad oversight in China.)

For movies and TV, there are no “claims” that can be misleading. Maybe a guy is shown in a bar smoking and chicks are digging him. Suggestion: smoking is cool and will get you laid. If that’s the standard, a hell of a lot of movie and TV content will have to be expunged as misleading, starting with absolutely every scene in every single crappy “reality” show. Sorry, that was redundant, all reality shows are crappy.

3. Better choices abound — China is worried about smoking scenes, minors purchasing cigs, advertising of tobacco products, public smoking, etc. Lots of laws out there now, and yet the industry keeps chugging along.

Why? Because the government here, as is the case in many countries, does not have the political will to simply call this shit an addictive substance and regulate it as a drug. (Whether or not it should be a legal drug is an entirely different, and complex, issue.)

The (state) industry makes a lot of money, and it seems like practically everyone in the government is a smoker. So would they actually consider tough regulations against the product itself? Doubtful, at least not in the near term.

FYI, no, I’m not a smoker.