In 2019, the third anniversary of launching Healthy China 2030 plan, in order to show the progress of smoke-free environment, encourage cities that have passed tobacco control legislation, promote cities that are planning legislation of a total ban on smoking, and drive more cities put smoke-free legislation into the legislative plan, we plan to develop an interactive digital map to show current situation of smoke-free legislation in China. We launched the map in 2020, shortly before the law was passed in Chongqing, to enhance social awareness to ensure the law passed with strictest standard.
In the beginning of the project, 20 experts in the field of tobacco control (including HWO, China CDC，university professors, tobacco tax experts, etc) were invited to discuss a set of standard parameters that could be used to quantify the effect of urban tobacco control. They were invited again before the map was launched. This project actually sets the agenda and acts as a center player for the group of people to share and discuss experience and insights to the issue.
Shortly after the map was launched, a hashtag topic was created and spread on Weibo, the largest public social media platform in China. Millions of readers browsed and discussed smoke free law and the condition in their hometown. A few days later, a serie of posters using the data visualization in this map were shown in subway car in Xi’an. And five more cities passed their first smoke free law.
The management system of the map is handed to smoke free law campiagn officers, and the data has been continuously updated. The impact of the project would last for a long time, until all of the residents in China are protected with smoke frree law.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Smoke free is a public health agenda and it’s very positive, so in the beginning of the project we thought it would be well and widely supported. However, as the project progresses, we were caught between tobacco companies and health authorities. It turned out to be a problem far more complicated than we thought. Different provinces and cities have different levels of economic development and policies, should we use uniform (the stricitest) standard to evaluate their progress on smoke free protection? After a long arguement and discussion with the experts, and after weeks of research and discussion within the group, we decided to stick to the stricitest standard because that’s our mission: to urge regulators on the behalf of the public. So, the data of smoke free cities is slightly different from the government, some of the “smoke free law” which are not 100% forbiding smoking indoors are removed in our list. This actually created some pressure between some law makers and us.
The launched map is in fact not the full version of the project. In the full version we collected data of cities planning to make smoke free law and show them with a yellow color. We also provide links to the local government when the draft law in under public acquistion. However, just a few days before the launch of the project, we realized that the tobacco companies would use our map as a tool to find the next target to lobby. So after another heated discussion, we decided to hide the information and only show in the interial version to a small group of social workers and government officers.
What can others learn from this project?
The map itselft provided the most complete data of China smoke free legislation so far. The journalist in the related field can use it as a powerful tool to find information they need with their report. More than the data, the process of creating the project shows the complexity of smoke free lawing making in China.