David Blecken
Oct 14, 2009

Yao Ming to push anti-smoking message in China

BEIJING - The Chinese Government has enlisted Yao Ming to act as a spokesperson for a new nationwide anti-smoking drive.

Yao Ming to push anti-smoking message in China
The NBA star will share the spotlight with folk music singer Peng Liyuan, who is also the wife of China’s vice-president, Xi Jinping.

According to reports in the domestic media, Yao will act as an ambassador to the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC). The role is expected to involve delivering public service announcements discouraging people from smoking.

It is not clear at this stage what form the campaign will take in terms of advertising.

Speaking to the Chinese press, Huang Jiefu, vice health minister and CATC director, acknowledged that lowering the number of smokers in China would be a prolonged, difficult process.

Bryce Whitwam, general manager of Wunderman China, said that Yao’s endorsement was a positive step and predicted that the ensuing campaign was likely to “make an impact on Chinese youth”.

However, he added that with current Government-sponsored anti-smoking efforts “weak”, the initiative would only be effective if followed up with public smoking restriction.

“The Government has to start talking tough,” he said. “This will help get the conversation started. But if the authorities don’t [impose restrictions], it’ll make no impact.”

Tom Doctoroff, JWT's Greater China chief executive, expressed surprise at the move, noting that the tobacco industry was an "important source of revenue" for the Government.

"I wouldn't have expected them to use a Chinese icon to attack a big source of revenue," he said, adding that smoking was a "symbol of masculinity in China". "To use Yao Ming is to fundamentally attack smoking as not cool. Yao Ming represents the essence of Chinese masculine success."

China is the world’s largest tobacco market, reportedly accounting for around one-third of global sales. Almost 30 per cent of the population – 350 million – are regular smokers.

Yao has also taken a stand against the consumption of shark’s fin soup, having taken part in a World Aid campaign in 2006.

Campaign China

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