The reason why WeChat changed popular emoji

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·2-min read

WeChat, one of the world's most used social media and messaging apps, has decided to change an emoji after pressure from anti-smoking advocates.

The platform, which is operated by Tencent and known as Weixin in China where it is most popular, has edited the popular "commando" emoji.

One of the most used on the app, it featured a face with a helmet and sunglasses on, and a cigar in its mouth.

Yet after mounting pressure, the app has finally removed the cigar from the emoji's mouth.

Tencent announced the change with a post on Twitter-like site Weibo on Sunday, sparking a wave of interest online and prompting more than 570 million views on the topic.

WeChat has more than one billion users worldwide and has multiple in-app services including a digital wallet.

A before and after of the commando emoji on the app. Source: Tencent
A before and after of the commando emoji on the app. Source: Tencent

China's smoking problem

More than 300 million people in China smoke, equating to nearly a third of smokers globally, according to the World Health Organisation.

More than 50 per cent of Chinese adult males smoke tobacco.

"China is in the midst of a lung cancer epidemic on an unprecedented scale," Lin Xiao from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention explained in a 2019 report.

In 2015, there were an estimated 733,000 new lung cancer cases and 610,000 deaths in China, according to the report.

In 2017, Beijing Tobacco Control Association (BTCA) campaigned to have smoking images and emojis removed from social media fearing the influence it would have on youths across the country.

“We thought it was a little inappropriate for such highly used social media platforms to have emojis with images of smoking and relate these to concepts of ‘being cool’ or ‘chilling’,” the association's president Zhang Jianshu told the South China Morning Post.

“Those platforms have many young users, who might consider such emojis as advocating smoking.”

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