Smoke-free Shanghai? Only if laws are enforced

By Zhou Ping Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-28 18:43:01

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 government 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.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

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