Getting China's estimated 350 million smokers not to smoke in designated public places would be hard even by law, a health official conceded yesterday.
Mao Qun'an, spokesman of the Ministry of Health, made the remarks in the run-up to the State Council's formal promulgation of the amendment to the regulation on public sanitation.
Currently China has no laws designed specifically to ban smoking in public.
However, smoking bans in some public places has been included in the amendment, due out shortly.
The draft also covers public transport.
However, Cui Xiaobo, a Beijing health expert who was part of the team to draw up the amendment said non-commercial venues including schools, hospitals, and parks should also be smoke-free.
Aggressive taxation was also an efficient measure to curb smoking, and should be considered, Cui said.
The tax rate in China, compared with foreign countries, is low.
China is the world's largest tobacco producing and consuming country, accounting for more than a third of the global total on both counts. It has more than 350 million smokers.
Though a beneficial initiative, the Ministry of Health conceded the ban will be difficult to implement due to the lack of a "multi-sectoral team" to enforce the law among a multitude of smokers.
In addition, the tobacco industry has been the pivotal tax source since 1987, which accounted for about 240 billion yuan (US$31.4 billion), 10 percent of the total State revenue in 2005, official statistics show.
"It's hard to balance the fat profits from tobacco and the smoking ban for the good of national heath," Cui said.
However Zhang Baozhen, deputy director with the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, said it paid a lot of attention to smoking control, as tobacco was a health hazard.
A recent survey indicates that the money dedicated to the anti-smoking campaign only accounted for a slice of the amount used for cigarette advertising in China.
Despite the tobacco-advertising ban since 1992, it switched to sponsorships of sporting events, cultural events, and "brand stretching", using tobacco brands in conjunction with the other products.
(China Daily August 11, 2007)