Stop law going up in smoke

By Bernhard Schwartlander
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, September 26, 2014
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To protect its citizens from second-hand smoke, Beijing's legislators are working on a regulation to ban smoking in all indoor public places. That is potentially great news, not only for the capital, but also for China's 300 million smokers, one of whom dies every 30 seconds from a tobacco-related illness. Tobacco also takes an enormous toll on Beijing's, and China's, healthcare system and economy.

Beijing's lawmakers should not allow single occupancy offices to be exempt from a ban on indoor public smoking. [File photo]

It would be a great shame - and a tremendous waste of life - if Beijing's lawmakers let special interests derail progress toward the passage of a regulation that would institute a comprehensive ban on indoor public smoking. Only a comprehensive ban will comply with the terms of the world's first health treaty, the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The treaty, which China became a signatory to in 2005, commits China to adopt laws that protect citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in offices and other indoor public spaces.

Some months ago, a very strong draft regulation had its first reading in the Beijing Municipal People's Congress, or local legislature. Yet as the legislative process has unfolded, some extremely problematic loopholes have appeared in the revised draft of the regulation. For instance, smoking in "single occupancy" offices would be permitted. That is, smoking would still be allowed in offices occupied by one person, such as leaders and senior staff. Allowing such loopholes would weaken Beijing's legislation for several reasons.

First, doing so would violate the requirements of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - an international legal instrument that China has signed and ratified in pursuit of its own public health goals. Loopholes and exceptions to the law would prevent China from meeting its obligations under the framework. This would be an especially disappointing turn of events, given last December's notice jointly issued by the Communist Party of China and the State Council urging officials to take the lead in promoting smoke-free public places.

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