Shanghai Expo returns $29 m to tobacco sponsor

SHANGHAI: Shanghai's 2010 World Expo has turned down a 200-million-yuan (29.3-million-dollar) sponsorship deal from a tobacco company, an event official said Wednesday, reportedly out of health concerns.

Expo organisers cancelled the sponsorship agreement and were arranging to return the money to the company, which they did not name, Lu Lixing, an Expo spokeswoman told AFP.

After last year's Beijing Olympics, China is planning to stage the largest World's Fair yet as the latest demonstration of its growing global clout. The six-month exhibition starts on May 1.

The official Xinhua news agency suggested the company involved was the Shanghai Tobacco Group Corp., which had announced it would contribute at least 200 million yuan toward the Expo.

The makers of Panda cigarettes were the Expo's single-largest corporate sponsor and in May committed the 200 million yuan toward building the centrepiece 1.5-billion-yuan China Pavilion, Xinhua said.

Expo organisers declined to confirm the name of the company involved or explain the move.

Press reports said that as a member of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, China is committed to banning all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, at both domestic and international levels.

China, the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer, signed the FCTC in 2003, committing itself to banning all tobacco advertising by 2011, according to the WHO.

More than one million Chinese die of tobacco-related diseases every year and that figure is expected to double to two million within the next 20 years, according to health experts.

China has the world's largest population of smokers, with up to 350 million people taking up the habit, state media have reported.

An increasing number of campaigns have been launched in recent years to discourage young people from smoking, raise awareness about second-hand smoke and encourage smokers to quit.