Widespread smoking ban to roll out in Beijing

Strict new smoking regulations begin Monday in the capital of China, the world's largest tobacco consumer.

AFP
China's capital seeks to snuff out smoking in indoor public places with a new ban, unprecedented fines and a hotline to report offenders, but enforcement is doubtful in one of the world's most tobacco-addicted countries.

Beijing will ban smoking in restaurants, offices and on public transport from Monday, part of unprecedented new curbs welcomed by anti-tobacco advocates, though how they will be enforced remains to be seen.

Health activists have pushed for years for stronger restrictions on smoking in China, the world's largest tobacco consumer, which is considering further anti-smoking curbs nationwide.

Under the rules, anyone in China's capital who violates the bans, which include smoking near schools and hospitals, must pay 200 yuan ($32.25). The current fine, seldom enforced, is just 10 yuan ($1.60).

Anyone who breaks the law three times will be named and shamed on a government website. And businesses can be fined up to 10,000 yuan ($1,600) for failing to stamp out smoking on their premises.

"Restaurant staff have a duty to try to dissuade people from smoking," said Mao Qunan, of the National Health and Family Planning Commission. "If they don't listen to persuasion, then law enforcement authorities will file a case against them."

The government will also no longer allow cigarettes to be sold to shops within 100 meters of primary schools and kindergartens, according to state media.

Smoking is a major health crisis in China, where more than 300 million smokers have made cigarettes part of the social fabric, and millions more are exposed to secondhand smoke. More than half of Chinese smokers buy cigarettes at less than five yuan (80 U.S. cents) a pack.

Parliament passed legislation last month banning tobacco ads in mass media, public places on public transport and outdoors. Many Chinese cities have banned smoking in outdoor public places, but enforcement has been lax.

Bright red banners, typically used to display government slogans, have been posted around Beijing with anti-smoking messages. The city has also set up a hot line on which violators can be reported, the China Daily reported.

The names of people and companies who violate the rules more than three times will be posted on a government website for a month, state radio said.

Anti-tobacco advocates said they were more confident in the government's will to enforce the bans after a series of tougher measures in recent months, including a bigger tobacco tax.

"We couldn't say this is the strongest law in the world," said Angela Pratt, of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative. "But it's certainly up there with the strongest, in that there are no exemptions, no exceptions and no loopholes on the indoor smoking ban requirement."

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