Despite ban, smoking is rampant in Internet bars

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The city is seeking more effective ways to prevent smoking in Internet bars and other entertainment venues, which are the least likely to comply with the ban on smoking in public places.

A report released by the health promotion committee under the Shanghai municipal health bureau at a news conference on March 1 showed that last year 66 establishments and five individuals were fined more than 157,000 yuan ($25,000) for violating the city's anti-smoking law.

Under the anti-smoking law, which took effect on March 1, 2010, public venues, including hospitals, schools, bars and restaurants, are required to establish designated non-smoking areas and put up signs prohibiting smoking.

People who ignore smoking bans are first warned by supervisors, and if they refuse to stop smoking, are fined 50 to 200 yuan.

The report said Internet bars were the worst places for complying with the law, followed by entertainment venues and restaurants.

Li Zhongyang, deputy director of the municipal health promotion committee and deputy inspector of the municipal health bureau, said several reasons are to blame.

"Employees there lack systematic education and training. They know less about the harm of smoking and passive smoking," she said.

"Some Internet bar operators choose to turn a blind eye to the smoking because they worry they would hurt their business if they prevented smoking," she added.

Li said the next step is to adjust measures and make supervision plans according to different characteristics of public places.

Aside from Internet bars, cultural and entertainment venues are also lax in complying with the smoking ban.

In 2011, 36 of the 66 places fined for violating the rules were cultural and entertainment venues. They were fined a total of 98,000 yuan.

In addition, the operators of some restaurants relaxed the rules to draw business.

"If diners are sensitive to smoke, we will provide a place for them where there are fewer other diners who can disturb them. But there is no no-smoking section," said Xu Zhenghua, the manager of Hunan Cuisine Restaurant, in Yangpu district.

"Smoking is inevitable," said the operator of Le Taotao restaurant, on East Tiyu Road, in Hongkou district. "We just close an eye to some diners smoking." Opposite the man was a no-smoking sign.

Earlier last week, the Shanghai municipal health promotion committee teamed up with other government agencies to launch a week-long supervision initiative on compliance with the smoking ban in public places.

"The first day's inspection showed that restaurants have established non-smoking areas, and fewer people were smoking there compared with the period during the first month after the public smoking ban took effect," Gu Xiping, the committee's press officer, told China Daily.

But she quickly added that things were not good in Internet bars.

"When law enforcers conduct on-the-spot inspections in Internet bars, they find that the areas stink of cigarettes," she said.

"No smokers were found, but the heavy smoke showed that someone had been smoking there," she said.

An undercover China Daily reporter visiting several Internet bars found many smokers in the sites.

In an Internet bar near Tongji University, several surfers were smoking.

"There are no special areas for non-smokers," said a female staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "You can find a place on your own where the smoke is less dense."

Officials said enforcing the smoking ban in Internet bars has long been difficult for inspectors, though some departments have never stopped their supervision and fining of offenders.

"Punishment alone cannot solve the problem. What is needed is long-term education and supervision," Ji Jinxiang, an official with the Yangpu district, said on March 1.

In an effort to push the smoking control in Internet bars, the district organized a number of volunteers from local communities to prevent and educate smokers in Internet bars.

"Smoking control is a long-term job. It's not easy to get people to quit smoking. The focal point of smoking control is to constantly improve public awareness," said Shen Weitao, an official from Shanghai Food and Drug Administration.

"More departments must work together, and educate the public about the harm of cigarettes," he said.

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