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June 29, 2017

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Don't just blame cartoons for the evils of smoking

Once again, the government is blaming the mass media for causing social problems. This time, children's cartoons have been derided for frequently depicting scenes of cigarette smoking. Over the past several days, officials from various government departments have blamed the media for all sorts of social evils.

Together with President Ma Ying-jeou, the media was also accused of violating the mandatory 10-day ban on publicizing opinion poll results before the recent county chief and mayoral elections. Government and community leaders have also accused news broadcasters of using animated graphics to "teach" viewers how heinous crimes were committed. Especially graphic animation clips were also cited as a reason for denying Next Media's application to open a TV news channel.

Next's animation clips even included "hypothetical" conversations and statements reflecting what was supposedly going through the minds of criminals and their victims while crimes were being committed. The cartoon complaint was issued by the Bureau of Health Promotion, which operates under the Cabinet's Department of Health. According to bureau official Yu Po-tsun, Taiwan's mass media continues to frequently broadcast tobacco-related messages and images, even though a strict anti-smoking law was put into place in January of this year. Since tobacco advertising is banned and the act of smoking is forbidden in the vast majority of public indoor spaces, the habit of smoking is mentioned far less in news reports today than it was a few years ago. Even when the subject of smoking is brought up in the news, the reports usually take an anti-smoking tone by emphasizing health problems or public nuisances caused by the habit.

But the bureau found that even today, smoking remains frequently depicted in local dramas and movies. The habit of smoking is often shown in children's cartoons, including many that have been favorites of Taiwanese kids for many years.

An example is "One Piece," a popular Japanese cartoon series about adventuresome pirates searching the seas for elusive treasure. This cartoon, which regularly appears on terrestrial TV networks in the late afternoon when most kids have returned home from school, features a cook named Sanji who constantly has a burning cigarette dangling from his lips.

Another cartoon regularly broadcast on terrestrial channels here is "Hikaru no Go," a Japanese cartoon themed on the board game Go. This program has been credited with popularizing the game of Go throughout East Asia, including here in Taiwan. However, many of the characters in the cartoon, such as the Go-hating Tetsuo Kaga, are depicted in the cartoon puffing away on cigarettes.

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