Young Smoker Tackles China's Tobacco Firms
BEIJING (Reuters) - A 17-year old smoker is suing 25 Chinese tobacco firms for not carrying health warnings on their Web sites in what is billed as China's first tobacco lawsuit by a minor, the teenager's lawyers said on Friday.
Wu Zhuoxun, who began smoking at the age of 13, alleges the tobacco company Web sites seduced him with the message that smoking was ``tasteful'' and ``cultivated,'' according to official legal documents seen by Reuters. The case of the youngster from the central province of Hunan was presented to a local court in Beijing on Wednesday, one of his legal aides said.
Wu is being represented by 10 prominent Chinese lawyers who announced a campaign in May to protect youngsters against tobacco companies' advertising, sales and production techniques.
``Adults have the wherewithal to make a conscious choice to smoke, but kids don't,'' said Duan Xiaoling, an assistant to one of the lawyers. ``We think we can do something for these kids.''
Wu is demanding that the tobacco firms' Web sites carry a warning that it is illegal for minors to smoke and dedicate 10 percent of their content to the health hazards of smoking.
He is not seeking compensation other than legal costs.
Cigarette companies are barred from advertising in newspapers or on television in China, but that has done little to curb Chinese smoking habits.
China is the largest tobacco market in the world with 350 million smokers -- more than the entire population of the United States.
Beijing established laws forbidding minors from drinking or smoking in 1999, but they have proven difficult to enforce.
``At very least you could say they're a big taxpayer for the government,'' said Duan. ``So thus far no one has dared sue them.'' She said that since the lawyers' campaign began, China's State Tobacco Monopoly Bureau had begun requiring retailers to post signs saying sales to minors are illegal.