Beijing launches campaign to snuff out smoking

RED-uniformed volunteers, propaganda banners and nosmoking signs sprinkled China’s capital city on Monday as Beijing (北京) unrolled ambitious new curbs on a popular habit that has taken a serious toll on the country’s health.

Health activists have lobbied for years for stronger restrictions on smoking in China, the world’s largest tobacco consumer, and authorities are now considering further anti-smoking measures nationwide.

Under the new rules in Beijing, one of the world’s most populous cities with 21.5 million people, anyone who violates a ban on smoking in restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals and in certain outdoor public places must pay a 200 yuan (HK$250) fine. That is 20 times the current, albeit seldom enforced, penalty. Anyone who breaks the law three times will also be named and shamed on a government website. And businesses can be fined up to 10,000 yuan (HK$12,500) for failing to stub out smoking on their premises.

Smoking has created a serious health crisis in China, where more than 300 million smokers have made cigarettes part of the social fabric, with millions more exposed to second-hand smoke, heightening the rate of respiratory and heart diseases.

More than half of Chinese smokers buy cigarettes at less than five yuan (HK$6.25) a pack ─ a small fraction of the cost in Western countries.

The market is dominated by the state-owned China National Tobacco Corporation (中國煙草總公司), by far the largest tobacco company in the world. Tobacco sales are estimated to make up 7-10 percent of government revenue and the industry provides thousands of jobs.

Beijing authorities draped the Bird’s Nest Stadium (鳥巢體育場) to promote the ban on Sunday.

(Reuters, 1 June, 2015)