In a special Q&A series this month, we are highlighting women tobacco control leaders.
There are more than 300 million smokers in China, accounting for nearly one-third of all smokers in the world. Because of the prevalence of smoking, an additional 700 million non-smokers in China are exposed to secondhand smoke at least once a week. Strong tobacco control laws can protect the health of Chinese citizens, especially children.
For more than a decade, Vital Strategies has worked with partners in China to support tobacco control efforts and to deliver population-level mass media campaigns that encourage quitting, delay initiation and support policy goals, such as smoke-free environments and tobacco tax increases.
Recently, we sat down with one of our partners, Zhang Hongping, Director of Media and Information with the Population and Cultural Development Center of China’s National Health Commission and the President of China Family Newspaper, to discuss and learn more about tobacco control guidelines and efforts in China.
What role does China Family Newspaper play in supporting tobacco work and the Healthy China Initiative?
China Family Newspaper is China’s first professional media entity focusing on improving family health by furthering the Healthy China Initiative. The Healthy China Initiative is a major government initiative to improve disease prevention and chronic disease management. One aim is to protect 80% of China’s population with smoke-free laws by 2030.
Our goal is to be a trusted spokesperson for 450 million families and a champion of a smoke-free China. We work to connect people, families and the nation by communicating national decisions to the public, amplifying grassroots voices and educating the public to build health knowledge.
As a close partner of Vital Strategies in China, what are some achievements in tobacco control you are most proud of?
For World No Tobacco Day 2020, our organization partnered with Vital Strategies, the Healthy China Initiative’s tobacco control group, the World Health Organization office in China and other organizations to organize a show featuring popular entertainers and sports influencers. With the theme “youth under pressure, no place for tobacco,” the show raised awareness and support for World No Tobacco Day, drawing an online audience of more than 10 million people and generating more than 1 billion impressions for the hashtag #WorldNoTobaccoDay on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo.
In partnership with Vital Strategies, the Tobacco Control Office of China CDC and the China Association on Tobacco Control, we launched China’s first-ever national “Voice of Tobacco Victims” mass media campaign in December 2018. It was relaunched around World No Tobacco Day 2019 through China Central Television, provincial satellite TVs and social media, reaching over 650 million people to support national tobacco control policy advocacy.
Our goal is to popularize tobacco control action across the entire population. In partnership with the National Health Commission, the General Administration of Sport and other government departments, we organized family-friendly smoke-free runs in nine key cities last year. Online content and media coverage of the events generated more than 100 million online views, strengthening public support for our cause.
China Family Newspaper advocates for a smoke-free China in all of our work, including at conferences and through mass media campaigns. We take advantage of every possible opportunity to strengthen the call for a smoke-free country.
Can you please explain the importance of the new government guideline, Notice on Promoting the Creation of Smoke-Free Families? How will this notice support smoke-free goals?
The home is the first line of defense to guard a family’s health. In November 2020, the National Health Commission, the All China Women’s Federation and China Family Planning Association jointly issued this notice to promote smoke-free families across China.
The notice aims to encourage mass participation across the country and calls for smoke-free advocacy at the national and provincial levels, so we have been thinking of creative ways to engage the public. For example, China Family Newspaper plans to mobilize family members to refrain from smoking at home or, better yet, to quit entirely, which is why we are organizing events such as the healthy runs.
We also recognize the power of customs and habit on public perception and collective behavior toward smoking and tobacco. With this in mind, around the time of the Spring Festival we promoted a campaign discouraging giving cigarettes as gifts, and highlighted that this common gift is in fact the gift of harm. We also plan to encourage eliminating cigarettes from important events such as weddings and funerals to further promote a smoke-free culture.
What are your plans for tobacco control in 2021?
About 1 million Chinese lives are lost to tobacco every year. In 2021, we plan to support the Notice on Promoting the Creation of Smoke-Free Families, which also focuses on protecting the health of women and children. For example, China Family Newspaper has launched discussions on Weibo using hashtags such as #EveryoneStayAwayFromTobacco to raise support for smoke-free spaces.
Our work will also coincide with key dates and observances such as World No Tobacco Day in May and Children’s Day in June. To further expand our reach, we actively involve women and families in our smoke-free advocacy efforts, and we will organize more healthy run events in key cities through China this year in partnership with National Health Commission, local cities’ CDC and Vital Strategies.
Given the tremendous challenges in tobacco control including strong tobacco industry interference, can you share any insights or suggestions on how to advance tobacco control work in China?
Data shows that about 70% of Chinese smokers begin smoking as early as age 14 due to peer pressure, curiosity and rebellion. In our tobacco control work, we focus on encouraging youth to champion and lead the call for smoke-free environments at home and beyond. And that’s just one example. The government’s goal is to turn knowledge into meaningful behavior changes, and to lead the way to smoke-free environments and healthy lifestyles.
To learn more about Vital Strategies’ Tobacco Control Program, please visit https://www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/tobacco-control/ and follow us on Twitter at @VitalStrat.
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About Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control:
Vital Strategies works globally and in more than 40 countries to support the adoption of proven policies to reduce tobacco use. Our global team of experts use policy, advocacy and strategic communication to help governments adopt lifesaving, public health “best buys” like comprehensive smoke-free laws and high tobacco taxes.
Our evidence-based public education campaigns have been seen by more than 2 billion people around the world. We partner with American Cancer Society to produce The Tobacco Atlas, (sixth ed.) the most comprehensive report on the evolving global tobacco epidemic, and support production of WHO’s MPOWER reports.
Vital Strategies is a main partner in the $1 billion Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog, Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP).