City mulls toughest smoking regulation

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Little enthusiasm

Hotel managers, restaurant and bar owners, who are included in the proposed ban, also expressed frustration.

"It is very difficult, if not impossible," said Yang Liangyue, general manager of the Chundu Commercial Hotel. "How can I know if tenants are smoking in their rooms?"

"If ashtrays are not offered, the risk of fire is high because tenants who insist on smoking will simply throw cigarette butts everywhere in their rooms," Yang said.

Tao Chunsheng, a local police officer, said gathering evidence for violations would be difficult as smokers were likely to finish their cigarettes before police acting on a report could arrive.

Huang said he was "not surprised" at the opposition to the legislation in July, considering the general public and lawmakers showed little enthusiasm for enacting such an advanced tobacco control regulation.

About 30 percent of Nanchang's 4.64 million permanent residents are smokers. The city's health bureau estimates that half of the population is exposed to second-hand smoke.

As in every other Chinese city, puffing a cigarette in public is normal in Nanchang and a recognized social activity among men. High-quality cigarettes are popular as gifts. A pack of top-rated Chunghwa cigarettes is almost obligatory if a man is meeting his intended bride's family for the first time.

Inevitable trend

A survey conducted by China CDC this year showed more than half of 4,200 people in seven second-tier Chinese cities said their employers treated guests with cigarettes in the past year.

"In general, people are not well informed of the specific harms of smoking and second-hand smoke. This is true everywhere, but especially in China," Dr. Sarah England, a technical officer on tobacco control with the World Health Organization's China Representative Office, told Xinhua in an interview in November.

"We need to 'denormalize' smoking and to eliminate any kind of social encouragement to smoke," she said.

China ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, pledging measures to effectively curb tobacco use, including smoke-free legislation, large and clear warnings on the harmful effects of tobacco on cigarette packs, total bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, among others.

But implementation has been slow as the government placed the work group overseeing treaty's implementation in the hands of people with close ties to the tobacco industry, China CDC's deputy director Yang Gonghuan and other health experts have said.

The work group, led by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, includes many officials from the State Tobacco Monopoly which shares the management group with China National Tobacco Corporation, one of the world's biggest cigarette producers.

Taxes levied on the tobacco industry account for more than 7 percent of the nation's total tax income. In Nanchang, the tobacco industry's contribution to the tax income accounts for roughly 8 percent.

But economic and health experts say the costs arising from China's tobacco use cannot be overlooked. Smoking causes a million deaths and millions of illnesses every year, cutting productivity of the work-force and putting a heavy burden on the country's health care system.

This burden is growing as the government rolls out its nationwide health insurance reform.

Citing a report to be released in January 2011, Yang Gonghuan argued the net contribution of tobacco to China's economy was about minus 20 percent.

That meant the losses caused by smoking outweighed the taxes and profits it generated from tobacco sales, said Yang.

Experts voiced enthusiasm for the passage of Nanchang's legislation.

"The legislation aims mainly to protect people from second-hand smoke. Compared with the strong anti-smoking measures proposed by the WHO, the draft regulation seems less damaging to the tobacco industry," said Gan Quan, a senior project officer with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

Gan said a survey found that more than 50 percent of the respondents polled in Nanchang supported a ban on smoking in government offices, schools, hospitals and public transport vehicles.

"I am confident that the draft regulation will pass. After all, anti-smoking legislation is an inevitable trend in China," Gan said.

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