China faces uphill battle to stub out smoking habit

By Wang Dongying
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 17, 2015
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Beijing is readying a new smoking ban, but with the highest number of smokers in the world, China faces an uphill battle to change people's habits.

Past attempts

This is not the first time China has attempted to ban smoking in public places. In 2011, lawmakers introduced restrictions that banned smoking in all public indoor spaces including restaurants, bars, Internet cafes and public transportation.

However, the regulations have been widely flouted. Many people could still be seen puffing away in restaurants, around hospitals and in other public spaces where "no smoking" signs were clearly posted. Indeed, it was not uncommon to find an ashtray sitting next to a "no smoking" sign in a restaurant.

Smoking culture

The deeply-entrenched smoking culture in China makes it very difficult to quit the habit. Furthermore, many smokers say that it's hard to make friends or do business without smoking. Cigarettes are often given as presents at festivals and still provide a way to break the ice when meeting new friends or colleagues.

Stiff penalties have done little to dissuade people from lighting up. The 2011 regulations stipulated that owners of establishments could be fined up to 30,000 yuan, about US$5,000 dollars, for allowing patrons or employees to violate the smoking ban. However, the law was rarely enforced, and China's 350 million smokers carried on smoking.

New ban

The new ban, which is expected to come into effect by June 2015, proposes a ban on smoking in Beijing's public buildings, including hospitals and child care centers. Buses and offices are also set to become smoke-free with anyone defying the ban facing a fine of more than 500 yuan, around US$80. Any owner of a building who fails to enforce the ban also faces fines, though it is unclear how stiff such penalties will be.

While the 2011 regulations were rolled out across the whole of China, the new regulations are set to only cover Beijing. There are also plans to increase tax profits from cigarette sales and increase the price of cigarettes.

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