The question has arisen after a school in Sichuan province had its signboard engraved with the words “Sichuan Tobacco Project Hope Primary School”. A slogan engraved on another board goes: “Aspire to contribute to society/Tobacco helps you become a talent.” The reason is the school was built with money from China Tobacco.
The controversial signboards have given rise to a debate on whether tobacco manufacturers should be allowed to sponsor education. Some strongly oppose it because they believe that it is against the stipulation that no cigarettes be sold to youngsters under the age of 18. By inserting such words as tobacco in the title of schools, cigarette manufacturers are actually promoting smoking among children.
This argument does not make the distinction between two things: Tobacco manufacturers’ social responsibility to donate to education or other causes of public welfare, and the limits on their right to promote their products.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong in tobacco manufacturers aiding education or other public welfare. All enterprises that thrive on people’s money must fulfill their social responsibility. Tobacco firms should be no exception and they should not be barred from contributing to social welfare simply because the cigarettes they produce are harmful to smokers’ health.
Whether they should promote themselves in one way or another by making donations is another question. And it is indeed problematic when it comes to education.
As all know, tobacco usage among teenagers is a great concern since 15 million of the total of 130 million teenagers smoke. It is definitely necessary to keep this group of people away from the influence of tobacco.
The issue is whether tobacco firms explicitly promote smoking among students when they offer aid to the building of a school. The slogan “Tobacco helps you become a talent” is clearly inappropriate for primary school students.
There should be specific stipulations to ban explicit promotion of tobacco when it comes to contribution to social welfare by tobacco firms. The rule that all cigarette packs must carry the warning “smoking is harmful to health” may also apply in this matter.
There should be no problem in a school being called Tobacco Project Hope Primary School, but there must be a line under it stating that smoking is harmful to health. Then the school signboard will turn out to be a warning to teenagers.
Of course, leaving no, or little, room for tobacco firms to promote their products will quite probably dampen their enthusiasm to make donations. But it is much better than allowing them to promote their brands simply because of the money they provide.
They are welcome to contribute to social welfare but there should be no strings attached. Their contribution to social welfare can be considered as redemption because their prosperity is at the cost of people’s health.