In a na­tion of smok­ers, Bei­jing bans public light­ing up


China’s cap­i­tal be­gan im­pos­ing the coun­try’s tough­est ban on smok­ing in public places Mon­day in hopes of stem­ming a loom­ing health cri­sis in a so­ci­ety where smok­ing re­mains a nearly ubiq­ui­tous part of dining, so­cial events and life in gen­eral.

Smok­ing in Bei­jing is now pro­hib­ited in all in­door public places, in­clud­ing of­fices, shop­ping malls and air­ports, as well as at out­door sta­di­ums, school grounds and public parks. Bei­jing’s main air­port ter­mi­nal will close its three smok­ing rooms.

Fines for vi­o­la­tors have been raised to 200 yuan ( US$ 32), up from the 10 yuan (US$1.60) charged un­der the for­mer par­tial ban, and for the first time own­ers of restau­rants and other busi­nesses are re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing com­pli­ance and can face fines up to 10,000 yuan (about US$1,600) if they fail to do so.

While mem­bers of the public gen­er­ally ex­pressed sup­port for the ban Mon­day, it re­mained to be seen how uni­formly the new rules would be heeded and en­forced.

“Of course (smok­ing) in­flu­ences our health be­cause sec­ond­hand smok­ing is more dam­ag­ing than smok­ing,” said Xu Ji­awen, a house­wife and the mother of a 4-mon­thold baby. “I think it’s best for ev­ery­one to stop smok­ing in public places.”

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion says that 300 mil­lion Chi­nese smoke, in­clud­ing about half of all men, and that 740 mil­lion Chi­nese are ex­posed to sec­ond­hand smoke. The group says lung can­cer kills more than 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try each year — a third of the global to­tal.

Other cities have is­sued par­tial smok­ing bans and cig­a­rette sales to mi­nors are tech­ni­cally for­bid­den, although en­force­ment has been spotty at best.

China had long been re­luc­tant to fully crack down on smok­ing, partly be­cause of the tax rev­enue that cig­a­rette sales bring in. How­ever, of­fi­cial at­ti­tudes have evolved along with the re­al­iza­tion that the public health costs far out­strip tobacco’s con­tri­bu­tion to the public purse.

Amid wors­en­ing pol­lu­tion and grow­ing af­flu­ence, can­cer is now the lead­ing cause of death in China, with lung can­cer at the head of the list.

Bei­jing, mean­while, has been seek­ing to pro­mote civ­i­lized be­hav­ior on a par with its as­pi­ra­tions to be­come a ma­jor world cap­i­tal. Smok­ing in public places is seen by many as a drag on qual­ity of life, along­side com­plaints over heavy traf­fic, line-jump­ing and the city’s no­to­ri­ous air pol­lu­tion.

While many restau­rants ap­peared to be en­forc­ing the new rules and more than the usual amount of peo­ple could be seen go­ing out­side of build­ings to smoke Mon­day, en­force­ment seemed to be nonex­is­tent at one down­town cof­fee shop, where smok­ers con­tin­ued to puff away.

World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion an­ti­smok­ing ex­pert An­gela Pratt said that, if prop­erly en­forced, the smok­ing ban could help change the gen­eral ac­cep­tance of smok­ing as rou­tine.

“That’s what we have seen all over the world when strong smoke­free laws are adopted and there is strong en­force­ment ef­fort. The so­cial norms changed,” Pratt said.


In this Sun­day, May 31 photo, square dance per­form­ers chat near an­ti­smok­ing ban­ners dis­played on the iconic Bird’s Nest Na­tional Sta­dium on World No Tobacco Day in Bei­jing.

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