NANCHANG - Comprehensive tobacco control laws that include a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public places are badly needed in China where tobacco use and second-hand smoke kill roughly 1.2 million people a year, a group of health and legal experts said Friday.
Speaking at a seminar in eastern Nanchang City, China's leading tobacco control expert Yang Gonghuan said about 768 million Chinese, or 72.4 percent of the country's non-smokers, were exposed to second-hand smoke.
Yang, deputy director of Chinese Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, said people breathing in second-hand smoke were also exposed to serious health risks such as lung cancer and coronary heart disease.
She said a large percentage of China's non-smokers inhaled toxic second-hand smoke in public places such as restaurants, office buildings, and even schools, hospitals and public transport.
More than three dozen Chinese health and legal experts were invited to attend the smoke-free legislation seminar in Nanchang Friday to lobby for the passage of a city smoking ban touted as the toughest in the country.
The Regulation on the Control of Harm Posed by Second-hand Smoke has been shelved after its second reading by the Municipal People's Congress in December last year.
Those who opposed the bill said though it met the recommendations of the World Health Organization's (WHO) smoke-free initiative, it was too "tough" and "difficult to enforce" in China.
Ying Songnian, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, told the seminar that while it was difficult for smokers to quit, it was easy to prevent non-smokers from being harmed by second-hand smoke.
Ying said many Chinese cities had enacted tobacco control laws, but none of the laws was as strict and comprehensive as Nanchang's draft regulation.
The original text of the regulation required a total ban on smoking in 11 categories of public places, including offices, schools, medical institutes, public transport, malls, sports venues and Internet cafes.
The ban is to be extended to hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, beauty salons, mahjong houses and other entertainment venues from January 1, 2013.
Ying said if the bill was passed in its original form, Nanchang would set an example on smoke-free legislation that many cities would follow.
China has ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. But experts say its implementation falls short of the government's promise, mainly due to interference by the country's powerful tobacco industry.
China's state tobacco monopoly is also the world's largest cigarette maker, China Tobacco Corporation. Tobacco revenue accounts for roughly 7 percent of the government's tax income.