QQ, a popular social networking app heavily used by younger people, has removed a smoker emoji from its mobile version to help curtail the smoking habit in China, the world's largest tobacco consumer.
The move was made at the suggestion of the Beijing Tobacco Control Association. Meanwhile, the QQ computer version continues to feature the emoji.
The removed image, which shows a commando with a cigarette in his mouth, is supposed to express leisure and ease. It has been now replaced with another emoji displaying a commando with a green leaf in his mouth.
QQ is an influential application created by internet giant Tencent. Another widely used social media application developed by the company, WeChat, has not changed the smoking emoji.
Zhang Jianshu, director of the Beijing Tobacco Control Association, said letters were sent twice to Tencent, asking that the emojis showing a smoker should be withdrawn from their lists.
"It's not appropriate to define smoking as leisure and ease. And that emoticon would mislead people about leisure, especially young people," he added. "They may get the idea that smoking is a symbol of fashion and handsomeness."
Tencent's financial report showed that QQ's monthly active user number reached its highest point in the second quarter of 2016 - 89.9 million. According to a research report by the company in 2014, QQ users born after 1990 accounted for 50.3 per cent of the total.
Zhang said the association expressed gratitude to Tencent on Monday and hoped it would remove the same image on QQ's computer platform and WeChat soon.
On Sept 13, Sina Weibo, China's popular social media platform, began to remove a similar emoji of a smoker on its smartphone apps and computers. That was also at the suggestion of the association.
"Controlling smoking starts in dribs and drabs," said Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Tobacco Control Office. "Removing that image was a good example of blocking improper information."
According to the CDC, the smoking rate in China in 2015 was 27.7 per cent. An outline promoting Chinese health before 2030, issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council in 2016, said the proportion of smokers older than 15 years should decrease to 20 per cent.
"That is a truly challenging goal," she said. But she noted that more groups in society are participating in tobacco control work, and "they can do many things that governments cannot".
"Many volunteers can help the authorities supervise on different occasions. And a number of think tanks also can release various research reports to make suggestions or even criticise the government's smoking control work," Jiang said.