Experts discuss loopholes in push to ban lighting up in public

By Yang Lan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/16 18:13:40

The municipality's update to indoor smoking laws has been met with wide criticism that its terms are vague and open loopholes for law enforcement.

The second draft of the amendment of the Regulations of Shanghai Municipality on Smoking Control in Public Places was reviewed by city authorities on September 13.

The supplementary provision of the amendment states that smoking is to be banned in indoor public spaces, indoor places of work and public transportation, except for smoking behavior necessary under specific occasions and in smoking rooms set up for the special needs of operations and management.

The provision ignited wide criticism immediately upon publication. Smoking-control experts from around the country gathered last Wednesday in Shanghai to discuss potential problems with the amendment.

Xu Guihua, senior consultant for the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, said that the new draft is a step backward from the one before.

"First, it did not obey the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) guidelines, which said that only by banning smoking in all indoor spaces could we prevent the hazards of smoke. Also, this is not in line with public opinion," Xu said. She quoted a survey conducted by Fudan University that showed 80.8 percent of the respondents supporting the ban on smoking in all indoor public spaces.

Difficulties for law enforcement

Yang Jie, research fellow from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the supplementary provision will establish obstacles for law enforcement if it is passed.

"It will cause confusion about the law, and provide leeway to those who do not really want to obey the law," said Yang.

He provided a brief introduction of the smoking-control work carried out by various Chinese cities.

A total of 18 Chinese cities have carried out smoking-control regulations in public spaces. Through May of next year, eight cities including Beijing and Shenzhen are expected to have achieved smoke-free status in all eight types of public spaces, including medical and educational institutions, indoor working spaces, restaurants and catering businesses, bars and other entertainment spaces and places of public transportation. Shanghai has declared smoke-free zones only in medical and educational institutions.

Although different cities have different legislation on smoking control, and their law enforcement methods vary greatly, these cities have achieved consensus on smoking control: legislation that declares cities' public spaces smoke-free will make law enforcement easier and more fair. Allowing smoking rooms to exist will make law enforcement harder. The effective implementation of the legislation needs strong legislation, effective promotion and active participation of citizens.

See Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou

Smoking was banned in all indoor public spaces in Beijing in June last year, according to Beijing's latest smoking-control regulations passed in November 2014.

"In 2014 when the amendment of the smoke control legislation was being reviewed, similar problems happened in the drafts of the amendment in Beijing. For example, in the amendment 'civilized smoking behaviors' were encouraged. And it allowed smoking in separate working spaces," said Mei Hongguang, the vice director of Office of Beijing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee.

After public debate, these regulations were deleted from the final draft of Beijing's smoking control legislation, making Beijing a smoke-free city.

Shenzhen's smoking-control regulations were amended in March 2014. Shenzhen's medical and education institutions, government offices, indoor working spaces, restaurants and catering businesses and public transportation have all been declared smoke-free areas since then. Bars and other entertainment venues are to be smoke-free zones starting in January 2017.

"In Shenzhen, even though you go to remote areas of the city, you can find signs prohibiting smoking everywhere. In restaurants, you cannot find ashtrays," said Huang Jinsheng, vice director of Shenzhen Health Inspection Bureau.

The bureau also worked with television stations, radio stations and other media to send out 10 million messages promoting the smoke control regulations.

"Looking through the history of Shenzhen's smoking control, people did not support Shenzhen's smoking rules at first. However, the new smoking-control legislation made the government the leader in smoking control, and smoking control became part of the KPI of the government. This has made it work," Huang said.

Lin Shaopeng, vice director of the tobacco control office of Guangzhou said that Guangzhou recruited 46 smoke control supervisors trying to learn from Hong Kong's experience. The difference was that in Hong Kong, smoke control supervisors had law enforcement authorities, but in Guangzhou the supervisors did not.

"Guangzhou was the first city that banned smoking in working spaces, and it was quite advanced at that time," said Lin. However, problems emerged since Guangzhou did not ban smoking in all public spaces.

"Restaurants and catering businesses that have over 75 seats or over 150 square meters are allowed to set up smoking sections or smoking rooms," said Lin. "So when we try to persuade people not to smoke in a restaurant, the venue could tell us that there is a smoking section."

There are over 300 million smokers in China. About 28.1 percent of people older than 15 years old smoke, and 52.9 percent of males smoke. Of non-smokers, 72.4 percent are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to Liang Xiaofeng, vice director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"International experience shows that strict smoke control, especially the smoke control legislation that bans smoking in indoor working spaces, indoor public spaces and public transportation, is the most effective and economical way to prevent chronic diseases caused by smoking," said Liang. "Allowing smoking rooms to be set up for the special needs of operations and management does not fit Shanghai citizens' concept of health, and it hurts Shanghai's image as an international city. I hope Shanghai could block this loophole, leave no regret, and bring no obstacles to the smoke control legislation in other cities."

A no-smoking sign hangs in a restaurant in Shanghai. Photo: CFP

A no-smoking sign hangs in a restaurant in Shanghai. Photo: CFP

Newspaper headline: Tobacco amendment called smoke and mirrors


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