No good reasons for smoking in public

By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-14 07:48
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China's top political advisory body, the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), concluded its annual meeting in Beijing on Sunday.

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Members adopted a more open attitude toward social problems, and are more concerned about issues that are affecting people's livelihoods.

After China missed a five-year deadline to make all public places smoke free in January, measures calling for tobacco control appeared in many legislators' bills at the ongoing parliamentary session.

Some proposed publishing laws or regulations to ban smoking in all advertisements and films to keep young people from feeling tempted to imitate the actors and models.

Others said organizers of the "two sessions" of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference should not receive sponsorship from tobacco companies or provide cigarettes to deputies and members.

Still, it is quite common to see deputies and members smoking indoors during the 10-day long meetings.

They weren't lighting up in the Great Hall of the People (at least my colleagues and I didn't see anybody smoking there). But when they took a break from their group discussions in the hotels, where some of the sessions take place, the corridors outside the meeting rooms would immediately become smoking lounges.

At the Beijing Conference Center, some of the CPPCC members would take a walk to a nearby sitting area - where a no-smoking sign hung on the wall - to smoke. They'd soon be encircled by a group of journalists, who had to ignore the fumes while taking the opportunity to ask some questions.

Well, let me be clear. I'm not saying that smoking is wrong. I think it is a personal choice. Smoking a cigarette means you accept that your life expectancy will be reduced by 11 minutes for each cigarette you smoke and that you have a greater chance of contracting lung cancer, as tobacco packages state.

But, to me, it isn't nearly so acceptable to cause annoyance or harm to the people around you - something I doubt a large number of the 350-million Chinese who smoke even think about when enjoying their cigarettes.

In 2010, an estimated 740 million nonsmokers in China were exposed to secondhand smoke, according to a report by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Previous statistics suggest that passive smoking causes around 100,000 deaths annually in the country.

Some people argue that an anti-smoking campaign will result in a huge blow to the tobacco industry, which will in turn lead to job losses and reduced tax revenues.

But official statistics put the cost of the harm done by smoking at 252 billion yuan a year, a figure that takes into account medical expenses, fire damage and environmental pollution. That's far beyond the tax revenue generated from the industry.

So it's clear that the economic costs of allowing smoking in public places outweigh the benefits. On top of that, the recognition of the responsibility each of us has to consider the well-being of others should clinch the argument in favor of strict prohibitions.

Again, China has promised to ban smoking in public places "in an all-around manner" during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015).

Perhaps the first step toward this goal should be to tell smokers to look around for disapproving faces before lighting up a cigarette. At the least, the hotels that accommodate the two annual sessions next year should allow smoking to take place only in designated areas.

(China Daily 03/14/2011 page7)