China’s new public smoking ban starts with enforcement

By Onat Kibaroglu Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/8 18:53:40


Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

From automobiles to rice, the world's biggest consumer and producer of cigarettes is also, unsurprisingly, China.

Westerners who arrive in China for the first time must be shocked (or pleasantly surprised) to see so many varieties of dirt-cheap, attractively packaged cigarette brands - all without those irritating health warnings.

Till now, China has been a paradise for smokers, with cigarettes allowed literally anywhere, from restaurants and bars to schools and hospitals.

Unfortunately for addicts, the central government just implemented a new nationwide smoking ban. The spokesman of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Mao Qun'an, made the announcement during the 9th Annual Global Conference on Health Promotion in Shanghai.

Under the terms of the new ban, smoking will be prohibited at all indoor public venues, workplaces and public transportation facilities. Smoking will also be forbidden near schools, historical sites, hospitals and stadiums.

Violators can (but not "will") be fined up to 500 yuan ($72.68), while companies caught allowing smoking on their premises may (but not "must") be fined up to 30,000 yuan and could even lose their business license.

This is a significant upgrade from the previous legislation introduced in 2014.

Seeing this ban actually working will be fascinating to me, given how I've observed during my time in China that smoking is a veritable ritual - a social impulse - beyond being just a personal vice or a bad habit.

During business meetings cigarettes will be tossed across the table to each other. Even when you meet a complete stranger, offering a cigarette is part of the etiquette.

And, of course, any time you find yourself in a pinch (e.g. being questioned by the cops), handing them a cigarette might ease the tension for both parties.

But the reality of smoking is not that cozy. The WHO says at least 1.5 million people in China die every year because of smoking, including from breathing secondhand smoke (contributing to a staggering 100,000 annual deaths).

Given its deeply rooted social role, taking action against smoking in order to protect the health of the greater Chinese public might seem like a futile battle. But many Chinese are apparently already well aware of the health risks of public smoking.

Banning smoking in public areas is in fact viewed rather favorably in the Chinese mainland compared with other developed countries, with 35 percent of Chinese supporting smoke-free bars.

A healthy population within a clean context should also be a part of the Chinese dream that has been promoted in the last several years. China, rightfully and quite effectively is on its way to becoming a top-tier global society.

In order to truly achieve this, though, it needs to establish clean, non-toxic environments in urban public areas, which are indeed places no visitor can avoid when arriving in China for the first time.

In Singapore and the US, two societies that used to be very hard-core about smoking, there are now huge social stigmas against cigarettes; in the past couple decades smoking has gone from being perceived as "cool" to criminally disgusting.

This is not only because public bans (starting in bars and restaurants, then gradually extending to sidewalks and parks) were extremely well-enforced, but also those populations have finally learned that smoking not only literally stinks, but the habit indubitably will give you cancer and inevitably will kill you.

A similar sort of public awareness campaign, coupled by strict enforcement by authorities at the local level, can easily be replicated in China through educational platforms, billboards and television commercials.

China's billion-dollar tobacco industry will initially take a hit, but the revenue generated from fines, along with potential tax hikes on cigarettes to discourage consumption among the lower classes, can very well cover that loss.

China, therefore, will not only protect its citizens' health, but also upgrade its global societal status.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


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