BEIJING - The popular Chinese social media site Sina Weibo has removed an emoji with a cigarette to support China's efforts to cut smoking rates in the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco.
The move, which was announced by the company on Wednesday, was made at the request of the Beijing Tobacco Control Association (BTCA), reported Chinese media.
Zhang Jianshu, head of the Beijing Association on Tobacco Control, praised Sina Weibo's move.
He said that "it is very inappropriate to publicise the concept that smoking is cool," news site thepaper.cn reported.
"The act of smoking is not cool or fashionable at all," said Zhang.
"It's obviously a mistake to equate smoking to 'being cool'."
The Beijing Cyberspace Administration also applauded Sina Weibo's move, saying it helps to provide a "positive internet environment for teenage netizens by advocating a healthy lifestyle", reported website chinaplus.cri.cn.
Known as the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, Weibo had 159 million active daily users in the second quarter of 2017. A Weibo financial report from the third quarter of 2016 showed that 82 per cent of its users are under the age of 30.
According to a report by The Lancet, two-thirds of young Chinese men smoke and most of them pick up the habit in their 20s.
BTCA has also sent a similar request to China's other social media giant Tencent to remove the smoking emoji from on its instant messaging applications including WeChat and QQ.
Tencent is based in Shenzhen, the third municipality in China to ban smoking in public places and work spaces.
China is the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco with an estimated 315 million smokers. In 2014, 44 per cent of the world's cigarettes were smoked in China.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) projects that by the end of this century tobacco will claim 200 million lives in China. In a report titled "The Bill China Cannot Afford", it warns that one million people in China die each year as a result of tobacco use.