Beijing - A smoking ban at all indoor public venues on the Chinese mainland will take effect on May 1, the Ministry of Health said, though specific penalties or responsibilities for enforcement have not been set.
In a document released on Tuesday, the ministry for the first time included detailed anti-smoking rules: no-smoking signs must be displayed, outdoor smoking areas should not affect pedestrian traffic, and no vending machines will sell cigarettes.
Notably, it suggested that public venue operators should educate customers about the health hazards of smoking and passive smoking and try to stop those who smoke.
China has more than 300 million smokers on the mainland, statistics from the World Health Organization show, and nearly 1.2 million Chinese people die from smoking-related diseases each year - making up one-fifth of the world total.
"The new rules, a revision to the 1991 version, are a great improvement for China's anti-smoking campaign and again show the ministry's strong commitment to public health," said Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, a Beijing-based non-governmental organization that promotes smoking control.
Previously, the ministry had ordered all hospitals on the mainland to ban smoking indoors.
Apart from hospitals, the latest rules apply to places such as hotels, restaurants, bars and public transportation, according to Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the National Office of Tobacco Control.
"However, workplaces are not covered," she said.
As well, no specific penalties are mentioned for violations and the responsibility for implementing the rules is not clearly defined, she pointed out.
While welcoming the new rules, Wu said she was also concerned about enforcement.
"For instance, it's hard for a restaurant owner to stop a customer from smoking," she said.
Liu Xiaodong, 20, who works at a Sichuan restaurant in Shanghai, welcomed the rules and said: "The rules require business operators to organize regular health checks on their staff who work in a smoking environment. This is very necessary for people like me".
"Many customers get used to smoking while eating. They may relax this way, but many other people have to suffer from secondhand smoke. The heavy smoke not only harms them but also the staff working at the restaurant," he said.
"We really hope customers can taper off smoking," he noted. "But I'm not sure whether business will be affected by that or not."
A woman surnamed Yang who works at a publishing house in Shanghai said: "It's good to see that more details have been put into the new rule. It endows business operators with more responsibilities."
"I often see some restaurant operators winking at what their customers are doing. They show no reaction when someone smokes in the non-smoking area. I know they don't want to lose their business, but it really hurts others," she said.
"But the revised rule makes a change. It asks operators to take action and persuade the smokers to stop. That's good," she said.
Wang Hongyi contributed to this story.