China's Movies Are Still Clouded With Cigarette Smoke

China’s public places are known for being smoky, and the silver screen is no exception. Despite some progress, a new survey by the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control finds movies are still cloaked in clouds of cigarette smoke.

Last year 63 percent of movies had smoking scenes, down from 86.4 percent in 2007, the survey’s first year, according to the report, which looked at 30 Chinese-produced films. Television dramas—the survey included 30—did a bit better: People puffed away in half of those shows, down from 90 percent in 2007.

“Improvements were seen in 2013, but we are still a far cry from tobacco-free screens in a country where the smoking rate has continued to increase among the young and the female,” said the association’s deputy director, Xu Guihua, the China Daily reported on May 21. Xu noted there has been little progress in implementing a 2011 order limiting smoking scenes in films and television programs.

China has 300 million smokers, more than anywhere else in the world. Of those, 15 million are adolescents, and another 40 million young people have tried cigarettes, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission. “Adolescents are highly susceptible to the influence of smoking scenes in films and TV series, particularly those starring their idols,” said spokesman Yao Hongwen.

The U.S., by comparison, has seen a rise in smoking shown in movies since 2010, including those rated for youth, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2012, 2,818 “tobacco incidents” appeared in top-grossing movies, up from 1,880 in 2011. “Total tobacco incidents in youth-rated movies [G, PG, and PG13] and incidents per youth-rated movie doubled between 2010 and 2012,” the center said.

Even as smoking in the U.S. has dropped overall, the number of smokers under age 25 has risen from 1.9 million in 2002 to 2.3 million in 2012. “Actions that would eliminate depiction of tobacco use in movies that are produced and rated as appropriate for children and adolescents could have a significant benefit in reducing the numbers of youth who become tobacco users,” said a report released earlier this year by acting U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak.