Will Beijing's anti-smoking move work?

Will Beijing's anti-smoking move work?
A group of people dance to popularise anti-smoking measures before giant "no smoking" banners at the "Bird's Nest" national stadium in Beijing.

BEIJING - The toughest anti-smoking legislation in China's history came into effect yesterday in Beijing, with unprecedented fines and a hotline to report offenders.

But some fear the enforcement of the ban would be weak.

The law makes smoking in offices, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and on public transport illegal, with venue operators subject to fines of up to 10,000 yuan (S$2,180) if they flout the ban.

Venue operators who repeatedly ignore the law could have their licences revoked, while individuals caught smoking in prohibited zones could be fined as much as 200 yuan.

As well as indoor smoking, the law prohibits lighting up in many open-air spaces, especially those close to schools, hospitals and sports venues.

"Beijing has now set the bar very high and we now look forward to other cities around China, and the world, following Beijing's excellent example," said Bernhard Schwartlander, a World Health Organisation representative in China.

Kicking off the ban, the Beijing government yesterday stationed 8,000 health commission inspectors at subway stations and bus stops to tell passengers who smoke to stub it out or not to light up.

Posters in Beijing promote a hotline number for tip-offs, and the city government has launched a social-media account allowing observers to upload images of smokers caught in the act.

But some doubt that the authorities could implement the ban effectively.

Nightclubs have been singled out as a potential problem area, Zhang Jianshu, president of the Beijing Tobacco Control Association, said yesterday.

"The key lies in the business owners," added Mr Zhang. "They have the responsibility to ensure no smoking (happens) within their establishments."

According to the Beijing Youth Daily, the measure "needs to make clear who is ultimately responsible" for implementation.

The newspaper cited the capital's airport as an example, pointing out that the ban there is enforced not by airport staff, but by the Beijing Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.

Some eatery operators said they wanted to enforce the law, though it could hurt business.

"We normally allow people to smoke inside at night, but we're going (to) start stopping them from tonight," said Zhang Lin, a manager at a Japanese restaurant yesterday.

No-smoking laws in China are often openly flouted because of limited official oversight or corruption in the form of bribes to law enforcers.

Cigarettes are also cheap, with a pack often costing less than 5 yuan.

A barrier to imposing similar measures across the country is the continued clout of China's state-run tobacco industry, which provides the government with colossal amounts of money.

China has more than 300 million smokers, said a report by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Beijing is home to about 4.2 million smokers who smoke an average of 14.6 cigarettes per day, according to a survey by the Beijing Centre for Disease Control last year.

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