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Beijing targets smokers

By Cui Xiaohuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-18 09:59

Beijing has vowed to stub cigarettes out of the Olympics next August to produce another "non-smoking" edition of the Games, but this time in a country where over one third of the population regularly lights up.

China is the world's biggest consumer of tobacco, with a market worth 500 billion yuan ($65.03 billion) thanks to its 460 million-plus smokers.

Beijing's health authorities have proposed making eight areas smoke-free zones. A recent draft regulation shows how these would incorporate the Olympic venues, the Olympic Village, training sites and Olympic-designated restaurants, hotels, hospitals, public transport and tourist attractions.

Separate areas for smokers could be designated, according to the proposal.

But legislators have scoffed at the suggested fine of 10 yuan for offender, the Beijing Daily reported, arguing that such a negligible amount would have little if any impact.

Other host cities are also implementing measures of their own. Olympic regatta host Qingdao is expected to ban tobacco advertising next year while Hong Kong, where the equestrian events of the Beijing Games will be held, recently outlawed indoor smoking.

Beijing Vice-Mayor Liu Jingmin suggested in March imposing a carpet ban on smoking at major Olympic venues including the National Stadium and the National Aquatics Center. Liu also serves as the executive vice-president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG).

Only 26.9 percent of Beijing residents smoked in 2006, a drop of 7.4 percentage points from 10 years ago, according to official records.

But smoking in the city is still rampant, with most restaurants welcoming smokers and packets on sale for as little as 4 yuan.

China reports more than 1.3 million deaths each year from smoking-related diseases and the figure is expected to more than double by 2050.

In Peking Duck, a popular English-language blog on China, one surfer suggested that enforcing the no-smoking rule was going to be a major problem during the Games.

"Do you really think the police will care about smoking when there are so many other more serious crimes to keep an eye out for?" wrote the surfer.

Some people concurred but applauded the attempt to tackle such grinding health issues. At the very least, the efforts to hold a "non-smoking" Games will raise public awareness of a healthy lifestyle, Ren Hai, a professor at Beijing Sport University, told local daily The First.

The idea to rid the Olympics of cigarettes originated in 1988 during the Winter Games in Calgary, Canada. The 1992 Barcelona Games was the first to implement the program fully.