Photographs posted online of a group of teenage girls in their school uniforms smoking on a street in Foshan, Guangdong province, have aroused public concern.
The photos were published on a popular, local online forum by an Internet user, who goes by the pseudo name "toxicwaltz", on Tuesday afternoon.
The post on www.ttx.com.cn said the five girls, four of whom were seen smoking in the photographs, are students of the Foshan No 10 Middle School.
"It is usual to see schoolboys smoke, but I never expected such awful behavior from girls," wrote "toxicwaltz".
"What makes me even sadder is that there is a slogan on the gate of their school that reads: 'To advance education, to optimize and strengthen rules'."
An undated photograph posted recently online shows five schoolgirls smoking on a street in Foshan, Guangdong province.
Official statistics show China has more than 350 million smokers. According to data released by the Ministry of Health in 2008, 15 million children between the ages of 13 and 18 smoke.
Wang Yuqi, a junior high school student from Hebei province, said that boys who smoke are a bad influence on the girls.
"They (the boys) want to pretend to be mature (by smoking). Girls follow."
Wang Qian, a teacher at the Xingtai No 2 Middle School in Hebei, thinks that smoking among teenagers is a common problem and an increasing number of children are taking their first puff younger than ever.
"Maybe the media and movies are influencing them. Or maybe they smoke to release the pressure of studies," Wang told China Daily. "When we find out that our children are smoking, we should care for them and educate them, not criticize."
Several netizens posted that the girls' behavior was improper, with one calling them "silly".
Netizen "Lannan" wrote that the government should strengthen supervision of those who sell cigarettes.
According to Article 15 of the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, "The parents or other guardians of minors and the schools shall educate minors not to smoke or drink excessively. No business place may sell cigarettes or wine to minors."
But clearly it is not too difficult for kids to get cigarettes.
The vice schoolmaster of the Foshan No 10 Middle School told Guangzhou Daily that the school had investigated the matter and found the girls in the photograph to be students at their school.
She said that many students who smoke think that smoking makes them look "cool and fashionable".
The school, the society and families should join hands to educate the students, she said.
"If shops stop selling cigarettes to minors and the parents do not smoke, with the education kids receive at the school, it won't be difficult to reduce smoking among children," she said.