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Clearing the air at smoke-free sessions

By Zhao Kai and Yang Wanli | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-20 07:23

A strict nationwide ban on officials smoking in public has been imposed at this year's provincial two sessions. In most provinces, "no smoking" signs have been placed on walls and pillars in the conference halls and ashtrays have been removed from the venues.

During the Guizhou provincial two sessions, the flowers and red carpets that usually adorn the conference hall are nowhere to be seen, and the chambers formerly reserved for smokers have been turned into tea rooms.

"It's also forbidden to smoke at restaurants and hotels, which is a good way of enforcing the non-smoking policy," said Zhang Mingfu, a deputy at the Guizhou Provincial People's Congress.

This month, every province, municipality and autonomous region has, or will, convene the annual sessions of their legislatures and political advisory bodies. They are the first meetings to be held since a circular was distributed on Dec 29 which ordered officials to take the lead by not smoking in public.

The circular banned officials from smoking in places such as schools, hospitals, sports venues, and public transport, thus helping them to "play a leading role" by adhering to the ban and kicking the habit.

That means non-smoking delegates, most of whom are female, won't have to worry about inhaling secondhand smoke.

Chen Juli, a member of the CPPCC Guizhou provincial committee said: "I strongly support the ban. The conference hall was thick with smoke last year but now we are enjoying cleaner air. I hope the ban won't just be enforced at the two sessions, but will also apply in the future."

As the world's largest cigarette-producing and consuming nation, China has around 300 million regular smokers. The practice has long been an important aspect of social occasions, partly because many people find it easy to open a conversation while sharing a cigarette.

"As a smoker, I find it hard to go without cigarettes for long periods," said Luo Yongquan, a member of the CPPCC Guizhou provincial committee. However, he added that he had observed the ban rigorously and didn't leave the conference venue to smoke while the meetings were in progress. "When it comes down to it, those are the rules and one simply has to exercise self-control."

As refusal may cause offence, the fact that there is now no need for deputies to offer each other cigarettes means the sessions have run extremely smoothly, according to Zong Wanzhi, a delegate at Henan Provincial People's Congress who is also deputy director of Luohe municipal human resources and social security bureau.

"Now I don't have to feel embarrassed if a delegate offers me a cigarette and I refuse. We should all obey the rules, shouldn't we?" he asked.

Qi Xin contributed to this story.

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