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Tobacco museum under fire for ignoring risks

A tobacco-themed museum in Shanghai is being blamed for enticing children to light up by ignoring the health risks linked to smoking.

City officials are now re-examining a recent decision to award the China Tobacco Museum the title of "Patriotic Education Base" and earlier award of "Science Education Base" and "Model Unit for Shanghai Juveniles' Moral Education," yesterday's Legal Evening News reported.

The titles sparked controversy among most participants at a symposium held in Beijing on Tuesday. Many tobacco-control experts said their research showed the museum was leading young people to have a positive view of smoking.

The museum on Yangpu District's Changyang Road is often visited by primary and secondary school students, health experts said. They were critical of its recommendation as a science and patriotic education base for schoolchildren.

Research released last week by Shanghai's Fudan University found that among 59 university students it organized to tour the tobacco industry-sponsored museum, less than half considered smoking "very harmful" after their visit. That compared to 83 percent who held that view beforehand.

The percentage of interviewees who insisted they would not start smoking also fell to 75 percent from 82 percent after the museum visit, the research found.

Also, more people bought the tobacco industry's "low tar is low risk" theory after a visit to the museum.

During the visit, few tobacco-related health risks were mentioned and neither were China's tobacco control efforts.

"As university students responded this way, the impact on primary and secondary schoolchildren is tremendous," said Zheng Pinpin, deputy head of Fudan's public health department and lead organizer of the research.

Zheng said more than half of the visitors believed the tobacco industry was good for economic development after their visit.

Wu Yiqun, executive vice director of the anti-smoking advocacy group, Thinktank Research Center for Health Development, said the museum ignored the fact that more than a million people die of diseases related to smoking around the country each year, Xinhua news agency reported.

Wu said the museum boasted about tobacco companies' contribution to economic growth and state fiscal income while skipping information about deaths caused by smoking and the habit's huge burden on the country's medical system.

China has more than 300 million smokers, the world's largest number.

According to China's Ministry of Health, there are at least 69 carcinogenic substances in a cigarette and tobacco consumption killed roughly 1 million people a year. That will rise to 3 million by 2050 if the trend to smoke is not stopped, the ministry has warned.

"How can a museum have a say on patriotism if it promotes a product that kills 1 million people a year in this country?" Wu said.

An official surnamed Suo with the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control said they had contacted government departments in Shanghai asking them to cancel the titles.

"So far, we are still communicating with Shanghai authorities and waiting for their replies over the matter," said Suo.

Shanghai officials told the Legal Evening News that they would look into the titles and issue a decision soon.

Museum officials told the newspaper it was awarded its latest title because it told how tobacco industry workers fought bravely during wartime.


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