An anti-tobacco NGO will submit a petition to the trademark authority today, asking it to discontinue the use of "Zhongnanhai" - the name of the central leadership compound - as a cigarette brand.
"Using the sacred place's name as that of a cigarette brand is misleading consumers," said Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the Beijing-based NGO, Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, at a symposium yesterday.
"Buyers feel the cigarette brand is acknowledged by the central government, and see it as a symbol of high quality and authority," she said.
Zhongnanhai is one of China's famous cigarette brands, worth 7.8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) in May last year, the company said on its website, citing a report by the Beijing Intangible Assets Development and Research.
But legal experts believe using Zhongnanhai as a brand violates the Trademark Law.
According to Article 10 of the Trademark Law revised in 2001, names of a central government office location cannot be used as brands, Huang Jinrong, a Beijing-based lawyer, said.
But in 2006, the Beijing Trademark Bureau agreed to let the Beijing Tobacco Factory continue to use "Zhongnanhai" from 2007 to 2017 when the latter asked to renew the brand name, he said.
"If the bureau did not cancel Zhongnanhai as a brand, then amending Article 10 of the revised Trademark Law is totally meaningless," said Huang, who drafted the petition entrusted by the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development.
Previously, some members of the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) submitted proposals asking for the removal of cigarette brand names like Chunghwa and Zhongnanhai. But their efforts went in vain.
Industry insiders earlier told the media that if brands like Zhongnanhai and Chunghwa were annulled, the owner would lose hundreds of millions of yuan.
Zhongnanhai cigarettes was also told off by the NGO for telling smokers that part of the money spent on each pack went to Project Hope, a famous charity program in China that supported school dropouts.
"Printing such information on the cigarette packs is misleading," Wu Yiqun said.
The manufacturer falsely tried convincing smokers that low-tar cigarettes could do less harm to their health, she said.
Shen Minrong, associate professor with the Capital University of Economics and Business, said: "China's tobacco producers should tell consumers the truth. On cigarette packs, the current warning - smoking is harmful to your health - is implicit. They should tell consumers smoking could lead to 14 diseases including cancer."
Source: China Daily