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Restaurants exempt from smoking ban
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Beijing restaurants, bars and Internet cafes have been exempted from a proposed smoking ban at public venues in response to concerns expressed by business owners.

The venues will only be asked to separate smoking and non-smoking areas from May 1 as part of the new regulation.

Zhang Peili, an official with the municipal government's legislative affairs office who is supervising the promulgation of the rule, said the changes were approved last week.

Lawmakers and health experts said the difficulty in introducing a carpet smoking ban underlines the grave challenges faced in a country with the highest number of smokers.

"Originally, we wanted restaurants to keep 70 percent of their areas smoke-free, but owners of Chinese restaurants - both big and small - worried the plan would hut their business," Zhang told China Daily.

"It is difficult for us to control smoking in restaurants. It's just part of the culture."

It was reported on March 29 that a strict smoking ban from May 1 would expand to bars, restaurants and Internet cafes.

But the amended rule means only government offices, schools, museums, hospitals and sports venues will be designated smoke-free areas.

Despite the setback, health experts said Beijing has made a breakthrough in tobacco control.

"I think it is the right approach to go step by step. It is a brave move to ban smoking in government offices," said Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the national tobacco control office.

Major cities including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao are also mulling amending laws on public smoking as part of a nationwide campaign in the run-up to the Olympics.

Health experts in Beijing said they hope the city is used as a springboard for drafting a national tobacco control law.

(China Daily April 14, 2008)

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