BBC News

China set to introduce new rules on smoking in public

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Shanghai

image captionChina has more smokers than any other country

China's health ministry will renew its push to end smoking in public places with new regulations due to come into force on 1 May. These will outlaw smoking in places like bars, restaurants and buses, but not workplaces.

More than one in three people smoking a cigarette in the world right now is lighting up in China.

The country's authorities believe smoking kills more than one million people every year and that figure is predicted to triple by 2030.

The new smoking ban is an attempt to prevent that prediction coming true.

Penalties unclear

From 1 May, businesses will not be allowed to use vending machines to sell cigarettes in public areas, but there will not be a blanket ban on smoking in the workplace.

Crucially, the authorities have not set out penalties for infractions, or specified how the law will be enforced.

Across the country, different provinces will impose different sizes of fine.

One smoker in Shanghai told the BBC she was unsure whether China was really taking the issue seriously.

"I don't think this policy will make much difference," said the young office worker. "Particularly in the smaller cities in the countryside, where smoking is more part of the culture."

Shanghai introduced its own ban on smoking in public places in March last year.

The city plans to expand the regulations to cover more venues from 1 May.

Roger Chu, who runs an Australian restaurant in the city, said the ban has affected his business.

"A lot of customers don't want to come into the restaurant because they can't smoke inside," he said.

Mr Chu said he hoped that, as time went on, people would realise it was a government regulation and not the restaurant's own policy that was stopping them from smoking.

"Then our business will get better," he said.

Those comments were echoed by the manager of a Japanese restaurant, who declined to give his name.

"It's more about inconvenience than economic cost," he said. "Sometimes it's led to arguments between customers and staff."

He admitted, though, that he felt the ban made sense on health grounds.

'Very old tradition'

Many non-smokers, of course, approve of the new policy.

"I hate those people who smoke," said one young worker in a foreign company. "So I hope this policy can be implemented fully."

He, too, was unsure though whether the ban would work.

"Smoking is a very old Chinese tradition," he added.

The tobacco companies have huge influence in China.

The government operates a monopoly on tobacco sales, which brings in huge amounts of money in tax receipts.

Campaigners say it is difficult to promote anti-smoking policies because of the lobbying that officials face from both foreign and Chinese tobacco firms.

The cost of a packet of cigarettes is significantly lower in China than in many western countries.

Chinese health officials say unless more is done to cut the number of smokers, then, in less than 20 years time, one in every four people here who dies will be a victim of a smoking-related disease.

The costs to the country's healthcare system - and its economy - could dwarf the amount of tax it gets from tobacco sales today.

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