China Bans Gratuitous Smoking Scenes in Movies… Real Life Next?
Did you know that China smokes a third of the world’s cigarettes? It was an incredibly good call for the nation’s health, then, when Beijing authorities recently demanded that film and television producers severely restrict the amount of smoking shown on-screen. According to the Associated Press, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has asked to “minimise plot lines and scenes involving tobacco and show smoking only when necessary for artistic purposes or character development.”
The notice also outlined a few more new rules:
Minors cannot be shown smoking or buying cigarettes, and characters may not smoke in public buildings or other places where smoking is banned. Where possible, actors and directors were encouraged to leave smoking out of their productions…Images of smoking in movies and television shows were out of sync with government efforts to control tobacco use, it said.
A Reuters video report also highlighted what they called a “crisis over smoking” last month, noting how the tobacco industry’s link with government bodies as well as the widespread habit of smoking in public has helped to normalize the activity in China:
Just how prevalent is the iconography of smoking in Chinese cinema? It often is a regular trait of many movie characters which doesn’t draw much attention to itself, and that very unassuming quality may in fact dangerous. Critics often cite the American television show Mad Men as an example of smokers gone wild, an assertion to which showrunner Matthew Weiner has said: “Doing this show without smoking would’ve been a joke. It would’ve been sanitary and it would’ve been phony.” I guess it’s accurate to show a whole lot of people smoking in a Chinese setting, too.
And more importantly, the image of the cigarette blazing orange in the lonely night is just too good to give up. The tent pole film The Founding of a Republic (featuring virtually every major Chinese movie star known to humankind) included someone smoking in 11.76 percent of its scenes. Check out the several scenes of the great Mao Zedong smoking in the trailer:
Such smoking action extends to much of Chinese-speaking Asia’s film and television. A recent film titled Monga – about gangsters living in an unruly quarter of Taipei’s Wanhua District in the 1980s — was selected as Taiwan’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Even films of this high pedigree are guilty of cigarette abuse: according to The China Post, 120 scenes show people smoking cigarettes, equivalent to a scene per minute in the two-hour film.
Or Wong Kar-wai’s “60′s Trilogy” (Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, 2046):
Wong Kar-wai’s trilogy so informed by overwhelming loss, nostalgia, and unfulfilled desire, it’s only understandable that all its characters smoke like chimneys. Perhaps it’s best summed up by YouTube commenter joecon81:
You should not watch this movie if you want to quit smoking.
Sometimes, I worry for Tony Leung Chiu-wai‘s health.
So how do these cinematic visions translate into health problems? According to research conducted by Dylan Wagner of Dartmouth College:
[S]mokers who watch movie stars light up cigarettes on screen simultaneously activate the parts of the brain needed for the same task.
Previous studies have shown that watching screen smoking activates parts of the brain involved in craving and reward, but the new research is the first to show that priming for the physical act of lighting up becomes automatic too.
Though this same desirous chemical impulse did not apply to non-smokers, Xinhua cites a survey conducted among 11,000 Beijing middle school students in which almost 33 percent reported wanting to try smoking after seeing actors blow smoke on screen. At least 1 million people in China die every year due to health complications from tobacco use. That astounding rate doesn’t seem like it will drop easily. Certainly, banning smoking in fantasy will not have enough effect on reality.
Do you think depictions of cigarette use in popular media significantly contribute to the problem? Let us know in the comments below!
(AP via CBC)
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TAGS: Chinese movies • Monga • Smoking • The Founding of a Republic • Wong Kar-wai
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