Beijing will draft new city regulations strengthening enforcement of an existing smoking ban, at a time when new statistics are showing a high inclination among teens to try tobacco.
Public health experts say that Beijing's current smoking ban lacks teeth due to poor enforcement.
"The ban on smoking in public places issued by the Ministry of Health in May has barely had any effect because there are no specific penalties for people who smoke and violate the ban," said Suo Chao, speaking for the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, which recently conducted a survey on smoking of about 40,000 students across China.
According to the association's survey, 15.8 percent of the high school students smoke habitually, and 22.5 percent would consider trying it.
Teenagers between 12 and 14 are especially vulnerable. More than 26 percent of them are willing to try, Suo said.
It is important to manage the types of influences they are exposed to, said Huang Jiefu, deputy minister of health, during the launch of a smoke-free school pilot project in Beijing on Thursday
"It's urgent for us to take some measures to provide them with a smoke-free environment and free them from tobacco," Huang said.
The earlier people pick up smoking, the less likely they are to quit smoking in the future, and minors, who have a poor sense of self-control, are more likely to be tempted by cigarettes than adults, Huang said.
As the biggest tobacco producer and consumer in the world, China has more than 300 million smokers, and 740 million are exposed to the secondhand smoke. About 1.2 million Chinese die from tobacco-related diseases every year, he added.
According to the association, the reason that more students are starting to smoke is the lack of a smoke-free environment and the lax enforcement of regulations.
"When teenagers see adults around them smoke, teachers or school staff, they might do it too," said Liu Changming, director of the Beijing No 4 High School. "It's important to provide them with a smoke-free environment in school through publicity or regulations."
The fight against tobacco will be a long-term task, Suo said.
A new ban on smoking will be written into the city's municipal regulations to beef up the capital's anti-smoking efforts.
New measures banning smoking are on the legislative agenda and will focus on strengthening enforcement, said Zhang Yin, director of the legal office of the Beijing Municipal People's Congress.
If new regulations are passed, the regulations mandating the current smoking ban, which are not well enforced, will be canceled, Zhang said.
Experts also gave suggestions about ways to better enforce the law.
Ying Songnian, an administrative law professor with the China University of Political Science and Law who led the research, said larger smoke-free zones should be written in the new regulation by the legislature.
"An effective means to stop smokers is to appoint staff members who are directly responsible for supervising smoking in their workplaces," Ying said.
For instance, a restaurant can select a waiter or waitress to stop customers who breach the rules. If the smokers refuse to stop, the person can report them to the local health or environmental departments, Ying said.
Feng Yongfeng, founder of an environmental protection NGO in the capital, also suggested that health or environmental departments form a hotline for receiving smoking-related reports from the public.
"Enforcement requires the efforts of everyone in the city, not just the government," he said.
"Besides, restaurants can also install devices that detect indoor air quality to supervise in a more transparent way."
However, Zhang said they are still discussing experts' suggestions, and he declined to give more details about the new regulation.
According to the World Health Organization, there are 1.25 billion smokers worldwide. Around 6 million die from tobacco-related diseases every year, and the figure will soar to 8 million in 2030 if the trend continues at this pace.