Shanghai legislators are considering banning billboards urging people to "Love Our China" that were actually put up to promote one of the country's major cigarette brands, Chunghwa.
The Chinese-character slogan is emblazoned on bright red billboards featuring a picture of Beijing's landmark Tian'anmen Gate at the entrance to the Forbidden City.
The billboards reveal their double meaning because they also carry the Chinese expression for "Smoking can damage your health."
The spelling of the cigarette brand Chunghwa is an old form of pinyin for "China," which is now written as Zhonghua.
The cigarettes are much more expensive than other brands and are often given as holiday gifts.
"The slogan 'Love Our China' is good, but when producers put 'Smoking can damage your health' beside it, the message amounts to an advertisement," said Li Ming, a deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress, whose annual session ended on Saturday.
"All advertising related to tobacco or tobacco companies must be banned," said Li, who is also deputy head of Shanghai Lawyers Association.
Such not-too-subtly veiled advertising is also used for other tobacco brands, including Huangshan, produced by Bengbu Cigarette Factory, and Baisha, made by Baisha Group, Li said. Huangshan refers to the famed Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province, and Baisha, to a scenic spot in Hainan Province.
Wu Zhenwei, a congress deputy from the Shanghai Administration of Work Safety, wants law makers to decide whether the love China campaign constitutes tobacco advertising. It wasn't clear exactly when that action might occur, however.
The Shanghai Tobacco (Group) Corp, producer of the Chunghwa brand, said the slogan promotes patriotism and is therefore a public service campaign, according to Wu.
During the Beijing Olympics, Shanghai abolished all tobacco billboards, including "Love Our China," but the advertising reappeared after the Games, said an official at the Shanghai Health Education Institute.
Shanghai should take the initiative in tobacco control as it will host the World Expo in 2010, officials said.
In 2003, China signed the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which commits it to banning all types of tobacco promotion by 2011.