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In Beijing, smokers still rule the roost

By James Healy (China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-12 07:49

It's time to clear the air, literally, on a very serious issue that's not taken seriously enough.

Why, oh why, is Beijing's smoking ban so poorly enforced?

The ban, in effect since June, has been called China's toughest ever. It's also trumpeted as blazing a trail for the rest of the country, where, according to a recent World Health Organization report, 740 million nonsmokers are exposed each day to secondhand smoke.

Smoking in public indoor places, as well as in workplaces and some outdoor areas, is now a violation throughout the capital. While the fine for individuals - 200 yuan ($31) - is laughable, the 10,000 yuan fine for owners of establishments that allow indoor smoking should give pause.

The trouble is, the ban is all bark and no bite.

I'm reminded of the "junkyard" dogs that guarded the automobile tow lots in a rough part of town I passed through at night while in college.

These foul-tempered beasts, usually Dobermans or Rottweilers, had no tolerance for intruders or, for that matter, anyone else. In case their ferocious barking didn't keep you at a safe distance, the sight of their sharp, glistening teeth did the trick quite effectively.

It was plain for all to see that these dogs meant business.

By contrast, Beijing's smoking ban has turned out to be a yapping toy poodle. Why bother to heed it?

I need only stroll about 100 meters from my home, to an alley lined with restaurants, to discover several establishments that allow, if not openly encourage, indoor smoking, particularly late at night.

On a recent evening at one of these places, a pizzeria, I was the only patron NOT puffing away. At two tables, noncompliant customers churned out huge clouds of smoke with hookah pipes supplied by the restaurant staff. Indeed, after the pizzeria's recent remodeling, the no-smoking signs that once adorned its walls were no longer posted.

In Beijing, smokers still rule the roost

Just a few doors down, at a 24-hour noodle restaurant, I pointed out to the staff that about a dozen people were smoking. They mostly shrugged me off, but one staffer, not understanding the meaning of my pantomime (I don't speak Mandarin), reached under the counter and presented me a pack of cigarettes that this fine eatery offered for sale.

Somebody hasn't gotten the word yet.

Although nothing befouls a good meal, a good mood or a good set of lungs quite like a smoldering cigarette, it apparently matters little how much nonsmokers huff and puff in protest. Smokers are business, and business is good, even if the air isn't.

The disgusting truth is that Beijing's smokers continue to force nonsmokers to breathe their life-threatening crud - a microcosmic version of the industrial miscreants who poison China's capital with the filth belched from their grimy smokestacks.

When will Beijing bring out the bulldogs?

Contact the writer at jameshealy@chinadaily.com.cn

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