Smokers ignore no-smoking law in Guangzhou

By Xu Lin
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, October 29, 2010
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"Give me an ash tray," Mr. Wu said to a waiter in a restaurant in the south China city of Guangzhou. As he surveyed the menu, he routinely lit up a cigarette, but this time a waiter quickly intervened, "Sorry, sir, no smoking here."

Since a local smoking-control law came into effect on September 1 in Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province, smoking has been prohibited in public places such as parks, amusement parks, Internet bars, cafes, airports, railway stations, stadiums and offices. In other words, local smokers can only smoke in the streets, their homes and limited public areas.

Lawmakers implanted the ban to have a smoke-free Asian Games, and also to move toward the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first global treaty on cigarette control in the world. China signed the treaty in 2003, and promised that from January 2011, smoking would be strictly prohibited in all indoor public and working places, public vehicles and some outdoor public areas.

Wu reluctantly put out his cigarette, but later he lit up another one, completely ignoring the waiter, restaurant manager and the law.

"When police come, I may have to leave," Wu said. He understood that according to the new law he shouldn't be smoking, but he didn't care and insisted on finishing his cigarette.

This demonstrates that getting people to adhere to the law will be challenging. In Guangzhou, it seems the majority disregard it; Wu is just one of many.

According to the law, anyone found smoking in designated non-smoking areas, should be reported to the Patriotic Health Campaign Committee (PHCC) office if they refuse to cease smoking in the area.

However, a survey revealed that among staff in public non-smoking areas, only 67 percent knew that non-smokers have the right to forbid smoking in those areas. Only about 13 percent knew the amount of fine for a smoking violation, and only 4 percent knew the number of the complaint hotline to report violations and to direct complaints (12319).

"What makes us depressed is that even if anyone reports a case, it is still difficult to prove it," said a staff from the local PHCC, "because it only takes a few minutes to finish a cigarette. You can't prove it if you don't catch them on the spot."

The law also stipulates that if the manager of a non-smoking venue doesn't take the responsibility, they will be warned and then fined 2,000 to 5,000 yuan if they refuse to enforce the law.

Some hotel and restaurant staff is not happy with the law. The manager from a Cantonese restaurant on Shuiyin Road said that he responded very actively. Smoking was not allowed in his restaurant after August, and they removed all the ashtrays and stopped selling cigarettes. "But we lost customers because of it," he said. "It's a general trend to reduce smoking, but it's unfair that we're heavily fined because we can't change the habits of the customers."

The latest statistics show that 22.8 percent of the 10 million population of Guangzhou, or 2.3 million, are smokers. But there is only one person in charge of the anti-smoking campaign in the local PHCC office, and it's impossible for him to stop all the smokers.

Actually, the office is only supposed to organize and coordinate the anti-smoking campaign, while 15 city administrative departments are supposed to focus on smoking control, but this division has been ineffective in enforcement.

Yang Lie is the director of a smoking cessation clinic of the No. 12 People's Hospital, the first clinic of this kind in Guangzhou. According to him, there are only three to seven smokers come to see the clinic daily. "If people don't want to quit, the clinics can't do much," he said.

As early as 1995, Guangzhou enacted a regulation to prohibit smoking with a 20-yuan fine for violations, but the regulation was not well executed.

To raise public awareness, the Association for Smoking Control of Guangdong and the World Lung Foundation made joint public service advertisements via broadcast and online media for a month.

Some argue that prohibiting smoking will have no effective results and that a more incremental process is needed, such as adding facilities to accommodate smokers yet separate from non-smokers. For example, setting up a smoking room every two floors in office buildings, with a plan to gradually reduce and then eliminate the smoking rooms entirely. Regardless of the approach, significantly reducing the number of smokers is a long-term challenge.

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