Smoke-free Shang­hai? Only if laws are en­forced

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - PULSE - By Zhou Ping Page Edi­tor: heluyi@ glob­al­

You wouldn’t know it, but in 2010 Shang­hai be­came one of very few cities in China to ban smok­ing in public ar­eas. Ac­cord­ing to the Shang­hai Public Places Smok­ing Con­trol Leg­is­la­tion, 13 types of venues were listed, in­clud­ing schools, hos­pi­tals, banks, su­per­mar­kets, shop­ping malls, restau­rants with over 75 seats, and busi­ness es­tab­lish­ments of at least 150 square me­ters.

Yet to this day how of­ten are we choked by cig­a­rette smoke waft­ing over from some­one’s ta­ble at an eatery? How many times have we iron­i­cally seen some­one light­ing up right un­der a No Smok­ing sign? Or how about the jerk who walks into a crowded el­e­va­tor obliv­i­ously puff­ing away while ev­ery­one around him is cough­ing and cov­er­ing their mouths? No, it’s not too hard to spot a smoker in Shang­hai.

A sur­vey con­ducted by the Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Statis­tics Bureau last week found only 26 per­cent of peo­ple con­sider the city’s so-called ban ef­fec­tive. Poor en­force­ment of the law was blamed for its ut­ter fail­ure by 36.7 per­cent of peo­ple.

A lack of law en­force­ment is cer­tainly a very plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion. Bu­reau­cracy might also have some­thing to do with it. Un­like in Hong Kong, where a sin­gle Tobacco Con­trol Of­fice was es­tab­lished in 2001 by the city’s Depart­ment of Health to en­force its strict smok­ing reg­u­la­tions, 12 sep­a­rate gov­ern­ment bod­ies in Shang­hai must co­or­di­nate and co­op­er­ate to­gether to en­force the 2010 law.

Au­thor­i­ties from Shang­hai’s health, cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, food, public se­cu­rity and even, trans­porta­tion and hous­ing man­age­ment bu­reaus are all charged with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­forc­ing the anti-smok­ing laws in public venues that fall un­der their spe­cific ju­ris­dic­tions. The ef­forts of each of th­ese gov­ern­ment or­gans are su­per­vised by the Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Health Pro­mo­tion Com­mit­tee, which is re­spon­si­ble for the cam­paign’s public re­la­tions.

Over the past five years since the law went into ef­fect, staff from each of th­ese bod­ies have made a to­tal of 1.85 mil­lion col­lec­tive vis­its to banned venues. Ac­cord­ing to the law, es­tab­lish­ments that still al­low smok­ing can be fined be­tween 2,000 yuan ($32.23) and 10,000 yuan, and in­di­vid­u­als caught smok­ing in banned ar­eas can face penal­ties from 50 to 200 yuan if they do not agree to snuff out their cig­a­rette.

How­ever, in this same pe­riod th­ese agen­cies have only col­lected roughly 1.5 mil­lion yuan in penal­ties from 770 es­tab­lish­ments and 334 in­di­vid­u­als along with 19,011 warn­ings. On the books that may make the cam­paign seem like a re­sound­ing suc­cess – the Health Pro­mo­tion Com­mit­tee can the­o­ret­i­cally claim that only 1.08 per­cent of public venues across the mu­nic­i­pal­ity have failed to abide the law.

But the dis­mal fact is that smok­ing in Shang­hai is as ram­pant as it ever was. Yet de­spite hav­ing the re­sources and bud­gets of 12 dif­fer­ent gov­ern- ment bu­reaus, their cu­mu­la­tive spot-checks have only gen­er­ated about one sin­gle yuan in fines per visit.

The Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Health Pro­mo­tion Com­mit­tee says it has no plans to au­tho­rize one sin­gle depart­ment to carry out the anti-smok­ing en­force­ment, but Li Zhongyang, deputy direc­tor of the com­mit­tee, told the Global Times that smok­ing is likely to be outlawed in all public in­door ar­eas by next year.

More­over, the com­mit­tee in­tends to pro­pose rais­ing penal­ties, as the cur­rent fines seem more like a to­ken pun­ish­ment that es­tab­lish­ments and in­di­vid­u­als have lit­tle in­cen­tive to take se­ri­ously. A lo­cal hot line, 12345, has also re­cently been set up to en­cour­age cit­i­zens to re­port smok­ing in banned ar­eas.

Cig­a­rettes are deeply rooted in Chi­nese cul­ture. China, the world’s largest tobacco pro­ducer, is also its big­gest con­sumer, and there­fore its big­gest vic­tim. Health au­thor­i­ties es­ti­mate over 1 mil­lion deaths an­nu­ally from tobacco-re­lated dis­eases, along with at least 100,000 ad­di­tional peo­ple who die due to pas­sive smok­ing (sec­ond­hand smoke from oth­ers).

Will a wider ban on public smok­ing, along with stiffer penal­ties, curb this trend? Only if au­thor­i­ties ac­tu­ally en­force it. Oth­er­wise, Shang­hai’s anti-smok­ing law will re­main as im­po­tent as the mil­lions of chain-smok­ing men here who cloud our city with car­cino­gens.

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