For a long time China’s main concern over the fact so many of its citizens smoked was that it constituted a fire hazard.
There were signs in forests telling people not to light-up and little notices placed on hotel night stands reminding guests “no smoking in bed”. Such signs were far more common than anything warning of the damage one was doing to one’s health.
But slowly government attitudes have changed and this Monday the city of Beijing introduced a long-awaited ban on smoking in public places. Offices, restaurants, hotels and public transport are all included in the ban, as are hospitals, schools and the areas immediately around them.
More than 300 million Chinese smoke and around 1.3 million die from lung cancer every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Under the new rules individuals can be fined up to Rmb200 ($32) – i.e. the same amount for driving a car into the city on a no-drive day – and repeat offenders can be named and shamed on government websites.
Businesses that do not enforce the new rules can be fined up to Rmb10,000, according to copies of the regulations that have been stuck up on community notice boards around the city.
There have been other bans in the past but the fines were not as high and officials did not enforce them.
The first person to fall foul of the anti-smoking regime was a certain Mr Cai from Beijing’s Northern Changping district, Xinhua reported. He was fined Rmb50 for smoking too near a hospital.
The first business to be fined was a hotpot restaurant, the state news agency said.
Ahead of the ban coming into effect, the capital’s government ran an ad campaign to encourage people to stop smoking in public and as of Monday there is also a hotline that citizens can call to report violations.
Last month the central government also raised taxes on cigarettes and introduced a nationwide ban on tobacco ads being used in mass media and in public places.
Speaking to the Guardian about Beijing’s new ban Angela Pratt, of the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative said: “We couldn’t say this is the strongest law in the world but it’s certainly up there with the strongest, in that there are no exemptions, no exceptions and no loopholes on the indoor smoking ban requirement.”
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