CHINA> National
Smoking ban gains momentum
By Chen Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-15 07:07

Picture this: You are sitting opposite your date in a cafe and decide to light up a cigarette. She starts to cough furiously from the smoke. Your fingers burn as you look around anxiously for an ashtray.

But there is none to be found.

"It's not cool at all right? Smoking is no longer stylish," Yang Jie, 28, told China Daily yesterday.

After smoking for six years, the Beijing resident quit the habit two months ago.

Yang is part of the majority in a recent poll who said that they are not only aware of a smoking ban in Beijing, but also hope that the authorities promote the move nationwide.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they know of the capital's smoking ban in public places, while 95 percent said the ban should be expanded, the survey released yesterday by the research arm of newspaper China Youth Daily showed.

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More than 10,000 residents of 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions were polled.

The survey also showed that 81.6 percent of respondents were eager to stop smoking, or had heard of family members and friends who were considering kicking the habit.

"I am delighted by such encouraging support from the public, it will help to promote legislation to control tobacco use," Jiang Yuan, vice-head of the tobacco control office under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told China Daily yesterday in Beijing.

The city government had already extended a smoking ban in public to include sports venues and all indoor areas of government offices, transport stations, schools and hospitals in May.

While the ban does not apply to restaurants, bars, karaoke venues or massage parlors, these establishments are encouraged to provide separate areas for smokers and non-smokers.

The Beijing government has also recruited 100,000 inspectors to persuade smokers from lighting up in public areas covered by the ban.

Most of these inspectors work in hotels, office buildings and other venues under the ban.

The inspectors are expected to persuade people not to smoke on their premises, but they do not have the authority to issue fines.

Venues that ignore the ban, however, face a fine of up to 5,000 yuan ($730). Violators of the smoking ban can also be fined 10 yuan.

"Most smokers put out their cigarettes when they were reminded to do so, but some light up again when the volunteers leave," Jiang said.

The latest smoking ban in Beijing is only one step in a tough and large-scaled campaign, said Zhang Wei, director of the committee of a public health campaign of Beijing's Haidian district.

With 350 million smokers nationwide, one in five people over the age of 15 smoke regularly in Beijing alone, official figures show.

About 460 million Chinese are also believed to suffer from the harmful smoke of those who light up, while more than 1 million in the country die every year from smoking-related diseases.

The cost to the state in terms of healthcare for smokers and the loss of human resources is immense, officials have said.

With a pack of cigarettes going for as little as 4 yuan in China, the country has a tobacco market worth 500 billion yuan.

About half of those polled in the China Youth Daily survey pointed to low fines as the reason behind smokers ignoring the ban.

"Violators of the ban should pay a higher fine, which hasn't changed in the last decade," the director of the Beijing Committee for Patriotic Public Health Campaign, surnamed Liu, told China Daily in a phone interview.

Beijing implemented a smoking ban in public areas 12 years ago.

But there were no detailed rules on the amount of fines for violators and no defined zones under the ban.

"We have handed in a proposal and expect to see a change in the 12-year law before 2011," Liu said.

"Only if inspectors have more legal power and the relative rules are more specific, can a thorough smoking ban be realized in public," Li Fangping, a lawyer of Ruifeng Law Agency in Beijing, was quoted by China Youth Daily as saying.

Compared with Singapore and Hong Kong, Li said that enforcement of smoking bans is not tough enough in the mainland.

"One of my friends once was fined more than HK$1,000 ($128) for smoking in public places in Hong Kong. One month after that, his hands still shook when he wanted to light up a cigarette in public areas," Li said.

Still, public education programs will be more effective than any rule and relevant anti-smoking agencies should spare no effort to drive the ant-smoking message home, Liu said.

A new anti-smoking campaign will be broadcast to TV sets nationwide from today, the city's tobacco control office said.

"Anti-smoking measures might take more time to be effective, particularly for smokers who have been lighting up for a long time," Zhang was quoted by China Youth Daily as saying.