From today the most draconian anti-smoking legislation comes into force in Beijing. There have been months of propaganda leading up to today, and after many attempts to control smoking in China (all of which have failed) the Beijing authorities hope that this time it will work.
All indoor public places including restaurants, bars, hotels, and offices – both private companies and Government – in Beijing will be required by law to be 100% smoke-free. Some outdoor spaces at public places, such as kindergartens and middle schools, public sports venues, historical and cultural sites, and maternal and child health facilities, will also be required to be 100% smoke-free. The three ‘Smoking Rooms’ at Beijing International Airport are permanently closed from today. Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in Beijing will also be banned.
China is far and away the biggest producer and consumer of tobacco products in the world. It is estimated that there are some 350 MILLION smokers in China which is about 42% of all smokers worldwide. Some 1.2 MILLION Chinese die each year from tobacco related diseases, and that number is still rising – indeed it is the leading cause of death in China.
The Chinese have been smoking tobacco for hundreds if not thousands of years, generally in pipes which were and are still used by men and women alike. Just as smoking was begining to take hold in Europe during the early 17thC, Chongzhen 崇祯 Emperor of the Ming Dynasty tried to have smoking banned in China. The Manchus of the Qing Dynasty which followed his reign declared that smoking is “a more heinous crime than that even of neglecting archery”. But all attempts to curb the habit failed.
The problem is that China still has a strong smoking ‘culture’, cigarettes (particularly expensive brands) have always been considered an acceptable gift on social occasions or at Chinese New Year – giving them is thought to be both respectful and friendly.
As a result, previous attempts to curb smoking have been met with apathy, and with tacit acceptance that people will continue to smoke. This attitude is particularly prevalent outside the major cities, in rural China people do not seem to worry about or object to anyone smoking anywhere at any time.
This time in Beijing the legislation has some teeth. Any individual found breaking the law will be subject to a 200 yuan fine (approx £20), and any establishment which allows people to smoke will pay a fine of 100,000 yuan (approx £10,000) and that should focus their minds.There has also been an educational campaign to inform school kids of the dangers of smoking and of the new laws – and three hand gestures have been devised for them to shame any smokers they encounter. I have been practicing them myself as they seem a non- confrontational way of stopping a smoking taxi-driver (actually taxi drivers are not supposed to smoke but some do), in the past when I tried asking one to cease and desist, he threw me out of the cab – not a happy situation at 8pm on a winter evening!
I should confess that I am an ex-smoker myself (hangs her head in shame) but I stopped smoking 33 years ago, and so like all converts I am something of a zealot!