no smoking in China

City Weekend is a free publication focused on the expat community in China with specific city editions, including Shanghai. The magazine has great hip features, and an entertainment directory that can keep anyone up to date on the hippest trends and hottest spots in the city.

Being neither hip, nor hot, and not having the income to live it up like most of the target audience, I tend to admire the publication at a safe arm’s length. After all, about 30% of the time gallery and concert information is off. To be fair, this is China, the land where the best laid plans are ruined 30 minutes before many events (not to mention nevr running on time).

This week the magazine picks up on the drift from WHO’s May 31 no-smoking day. I don’t smoke, so it’s not a really big deal to me. IT is very interesting to see non-smoking culture permeate China, though I would say primarily through small children and expats. I hav to say that this is the most smoker oriented country that I have ever visited. Aside from theaters, public buses, subways, Starbucks, McDonalds, and elevators, everyplace else seems a relative free-for-all of smoking.

According to the article, foreigners are (in interview at least) predominantly non-smoking. Many Chinese young people (meaning below 15) are also strong no-smoking advocates. As in the US, this all seems to change around high school.

The article then goes on to throw altogether too many statistics at the reader. As always, this is the part of advocacy that drustrates supporters. You have a great point and then screw it up trying to use outstanding numbers to back yourself up, but you don’t take the analysis further, you just stand on a sensationalized soapbox.

What interested me is that WHOs outstanding concern globally and in China is young people. A good point: keep thm from starting and you won’t have to worry about who is going to pay for their nicotene patch supplies in the future. The more specific focus is young women, because they are more “at risk.” The amount of women smokers (and especially young women smokers) is on the rise in China. The concern I have is that it seems some of the important points in the China picture are left out. Women who smoke in China seem much more assertive and closer to the same levl as men as their more demure counterparts.

To put it more bluntly, I don’t know any shy and reserved “good girls” who smoke. In essense, these are women who are, in many ways, crossing traditional gender boundaries in Chinese society. What simpler way, at 16 or 17, to make that move than with a cigarette in hand? I am not condoning or condemning, but this is a point that the flashy numbers can’t even begin to put across. This is a little different, though not unparalleled in the US.

Let’s fast forward a few years. These young people enter th work place. WHO argues that young people who finish school not smoking will continue to not smoke. This is not so true for the young man working his way into the system of corporate ladders whre the ability to handle drinks and a few smokes ovr a business meal may be paramount to being sen as trustworthy. Women don’t face this kind of workplace pressure, in fact, many women who do smoke hide it in the workplac because what makes a man seem like “one of the guys” is much less flattering (and maybe more threatening?) coming from a woman. I am generalizing here, though not as wildly as one might expect.

The article argues for rescuing Chinese young folks, especially young women, from smoking. To look the other way statistically, for a moment, 64% of Chinese men smoke. The argument is that “Young women are now a targt audience for magazines, television programs, media in general.” Those outlets don’t need so much to target young men. Social norms prove that, just by becoming a good man, they are on the path their fathers set before them.

Statistics and flashy ads don’t hit on this. Women are an easier target as smoking is still an unseemly thing to do, so you can shame good girls into not smoking. I don’t know any older generation male in China who would pause before requesting a younger trainee or new hire smoke with him, it’s an important link of comraderie.

I am surprised there is no women-based statistic (how many women in China smoke?), but I can tell you that they group together – smokers staying with smokers, and non-smokers sticking together. Smoking women believe that roughly 80% of Chinese women smoke. Non-smokers believe that maybe 30% of China’s women smoke. It’s an interesting way to see how things work.

The other cultural tie here is when folks first contacted cigarettes. Many (7) people have told me the same story. The first time they came in contact with cigarettes was somewhere between 7 and 13 years old. The reason was that dad wanted to avoid losing a box of matches to the child lighting fireworks so he gave him/her a givarette to light the various New Year Festival’s firecrackers. What seems more innocuous and maybe even happy than something held out to celebrate the biggest festival of the year?

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