Smoking will be banned everywhere from the Great Wall to Beijing’s bars starting June 1. But will it work this time around?
China has long been one of the most smoker-friendly countries in the world, with few restrictions and virtually no taboos when it comes to lighting up. Go into most restaurants in China, and expect to be engulfed in a choking cloud of tobacco smoke. The bars, not surprisingly, are worse. Offering a cigarette to a new acquaintance is considered polite, while refusing it is often seen as rude. Sparking up next to children, pregnant mothers, or anyone else is pretty much considered normal. Now all that’s supposed to change.
Starting on June 1 in Beijing a blanket ban will be imposed on smoking in public places, after the city’s Municipal People’s Congress passed the tough new law in November. Affected will be all workplaces, schools, hotels, public transport, airports (which will no longer have designated smoking rooms or lounges), and Beijing’s many historic tourist spots, including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. The harshest antismoking rules ever to be imposed in China (18 other cities already have lighter bans) is seen as a trial run for a national law, already drafted but still some distance from passage.
Thousands of inspectors from the Beijing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee, part of the municipal Health and Family Planning Commission, have been trained as enforcers and can levy fines of as much as 200 yuan ($32) on smokers and 10,000 yuan ($1,613) on businesses refusing to comply with the ban. It’s the first time a law will target businesses that tolerate tobacco use, and authorities are also encouraging the public to report on scofflaws through a hotline (12320) and popular social media app WeChat. “Tipoffs can be conducted via phone or by uploading pictures,” Liu Zejun, director of the Beijing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee, told the official Xinhua News Agency. Already tough restrictions on tobacco advertising will be even further tightened under the laws, which will ban the ads outright from television, radio, print, public transport, and the outdoors.
Despite earlier failures, the ban this time is likely to have a real impact, he says. One key reason is the apparent top-level support for curbing smoking: President Xi Jinping has recently banned party officials from lighting up in public and giving cigarettes as gifts. (First lady Peng Liyuan, too, has long been a particularly vocal antismoking advocate in China.) On May 8 the country’s Ministry of Finance announced plans to more than double the consumption tax on cigarettes, from 5 percent to 11 percent. “These actions have set the stage for this new law. We can see the overall environment has changed,” Schwartlander says.
This article originally appeared in Bloomberg