Cities strug­gling to en­force bans on smok­ing in pub­lic

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By SHAN JUAN shan­juan@chi­

As China eyes a na­tional ban on smok­ing in pub­lic in­door ar­eas, health and law ex­perts say re­gional anti-smok­ing reg­u­la­tions lack the teeth to pro­tect non­smok­ers from sec­ond­hand smoke.

More than 10 Chi­nese cities cur­rently have smok­ing con­trol rules, all of which ban smok­ing in pub­lic in­door ar­eas, said Wang Qing­bin, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor with the China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law.

“But im­ple­men­ta­tion of the law is un­sat­is­fac­tory, mostly be­cause there is a lack of en­force­ment and aware­ness of the law,” he said at a sym­po­sium held by Bei­jing-based to­bacco con­trol cam­paign Think­Tank and the To­bacco Con­trol Of­fice of the Chi­nese Center for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

The mu­nic­i­pal-level rules mainly tar­get pub­lic busi­nesses such as restau­rants, In­ter­net bars, ho­tels and movie the­aters, but do not fo­cus on in­di­vid­ual smok­ers, he said.

Yang Jie, deputy di­rec­tor of the To­bacco Con­trol Of­fice, ex­plained that the city ban is sim­i­lar to other bans around the world that mainly tar­get busi­nesses in­stead of smok­ers.

Zhang Dafan, di­rec­tor of the Shangcheng dis­trict health in­spec­tion in­sti­tute in Hangzhou, Zhejiang prov­ince, said busi­ness own­ers who do not at­tempt to pre­vent smok­ing in their es­tab­lish­ments are fined. Smok­ers, how­ever, are warned on the first of­fense. A sec­ond warn­ing prompts a fine.

Hangzhou en­acted its ban against pub­lic in­door smok­ing on March 1, 2010. It has em­ployed a pub­lic hot­line ser­vice to deal with com­plaints or re­ports of smok­ers or busi­nesses who ig­nore the ban.

Since then, it has is­sued 276 warn­ings and 94 tick­ets, mostly for busi­nesses, Zhang said.

“It’s hard to catch and fine the in­di­vid­ual” be­cause it’s dif­fi­cult to gather ev­i­dence against a smoker, he said.

If, for ex­am­ple, a smoker is re­ported through the hot­line, that per­son will usu­ally have left be­fore in­spec­tors ar­rive on the scene.

Yang Gonghuan, for­mer deputy di­rec­tor of China CDC, said that ef­fec­tive law en­force­ment re­quires a broader sys­tem in­volv­ing pub­lic su­per­vi­sion, sur­veil­lance, as­sess­ments, train­ing of law en­force­ment and promotional cam­paigns.

“Cur­rently, the bans on smok­ing have no teeth,” Yang said, adding that even law en­force­ment bod­ies don’t think smok­ing is a big deal.

She rec­om­mended im­proved pub­lic su­per­vi­sion, such as pub­lic hot­lines to re­port of­fenses, and said that the “re­sponse and ac­tion of law en­force­ment to hot­line re­ports should be reg­u­larly pub­li­cized to help raise pub­lic aware­ness”.

She also high­lighted the need for more man­power and fi­nan­cial sup­port to en­force the rules.

In Shang­hai, city of­fi­cials have taken a dif­fer­ent tack: em­pow­er­ing the pub­lic. Tang Qiong, deputy di­rec­tor of Shang­hai health im­prove­ment of­fice, said the of­fice has re­cruited vol­un­teers to help in its ef­forts to curb in­door smok­ing.

Though the vol­un­teers can’t en­force the law, they help with in­spec­tions of busi­nesses and “high-risk” sites, she said.

“That has helped us to be­come more tar­geted in our en­force­ment ef­forts.”

The vol­un­teers, who are mostly re­tirees, are given tran­sit vouch­ers for their in­spec­tion work.

From Jan­uary to Septem­ber, vol­un­teers had re­ported 156 vi­o­la­tions, 64 of which led to fines for busi­nesses. Since the city en­acted its in­door smok­ing ban, 248 fines worth more than 335,000 yuan ($55,000) have been handed out.

Zhang Jing­dong, who heads the to­bacco con­trol of­fice in Harbin, said Shang­hai’s in­no­va­tions in en­forc­ing the law are help­ful. He also en­cour­aged the pub­lic to take pho­tos of in­door smok­ers.

“That would help with the col­lec­tion of ev­i­dence for law en­force­ment,” he said.

Harbin, in Hei­longjiang prov­ince, en­acted its own ban in May.

“Our reg­u­la­tion doesn’t con­front the to­bacco in­dus­try and smok­ers di­rectly but aims to pro­tect non­smok­ers’ health rights in pub­lic places,” he said.

So far, “no sub­stan­tial progress” has been seen, he con­ceded.

Cur­rently, five out of six dis­tricts in the city have smok­ing con­trol of­fices. He said chan­nels for pub­lic su­per­vi­sion of pub­lic in­door smok­ing will soon be es­tab­lished.

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