Lighting up in indoor places of work will soon be a thing of the past in Beijing. According to a renewed local regulation in the Chinese capital, from this May, smoking will be banned in hotels, offices, holiday resorts and all indoor areas of medical facilities, in addition to previously restricted schools, sports arenas and movie theaters. All restaurants, bars and Internet cafes are also ordered to designate smoke-free areas. The measure, the most extensive overall indoor smoking ban in the country, is expected to bring to the city a nicer and healthier environment.
China is the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer, with a smoking population of 350 million, or a third of the global total, and annual sales of 2 trillion cigarettes. Last year, the country's tobacco industry generated 388 billion yuan ($53.6 billion), an increase of 25 percent year on year. It is also one of the most nicotine-victimized countries, where annual smoking-induced deaths exceed 1 million. Besides that, about 540 million Chinese, including 180 million children under 15 years, are exposed to secondhand smoke.
In 2005, China ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires smoking to be barred in all indoor places by 2010. To China, it is an arduous task despite the already long anti-tobacco movement in the country.
It's undeniable that economic elements prevented China from taking more proactive tobacco control measures in the past. In some underdeveloped regions, tobacco growing and processing are the only profit-making industries, feeding millions of local residents and contributing the lion's share of local fiscal revenues. A fundamental change of such an economic structure is time-consuming. For example, Yunnan, China's largest tobacco producer, has implemented an agricultural restructuring program for nearly two decades, which encourages farmers to increase medicinal herbs and other economic crops. However, the tobacco industry still remains the source of around 70 percent of local fiscal revenues.
More than 150 Chinese cities have prohibited smoking in public places so far. But most of the bans are not legally binding and their implementation depends more on smokers' self-restraint. It's commonplace that smokers ignore the signs in a large number of designated smoking-free areas.
At the same time, further studies indicate that neither smoke-free areas nor independent ventilation systems can fully protect people from secondhand smoke, which kills 100,000 people in China every year.
Under such circumstances, Beijing's latest smoking ban, which obliges operators of indoor areas to enforce it and stipulates fines to be imposed on those that fail to comply, is undoubtedly more practical than previous ones. It can become an example for other cities to follow and can help bring about similar nationwide restrictions.