China huffs and puffs over smoking ban

An anti-smoking advocate dancing at the Bird's Nest stadium to mark World No Tobacco Day in Beijing yesterday. According to the WHO, China is the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco products. More than 300 million people in the country a
An anti-smoking advocate dancing at the Bird's Nest stadium to mark World No Tobacco Day in Beijing yesterday. According to the WHO, China is the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco products. More than 300 million people in the country are smokers.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BEIJING • China has backtracked on implementing a nationwide smoke-free law, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported yesterday. It plans to grant exemptions to restaurants, bars, hotels and airports now, the newspaper said, citing unnamed sources.

The Beijing News quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) as saying that the current draft is a far cry from the version the State Council put up for public consultation in November 2014.

The WHO said clauses related to banning advertising, promotions and sponsorship by tobacco companies have been deleted and the ban on smoking in public places has been severely watered down.

The United Nations health agency has called for a complete smoking ban in public spaces.

Dr Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO's representative in China, told several media outlets that the WHO is worried about the "loopholes" in the new draft, such as allowing restaurants, bars, hotels and airports to set aside smoking areas.

"You see again and again in the world such exceptions built in the law and it doesn't do much to protect the health of the people from second-hand smoke," said Dr Schwartlander, in an interview with the SCMP.

BEST TO HAVE NO EXCEPTIONS

You see again and again in the world such exceptions built in the law and it doesn't do much to protect the health of the people from second-hand smoke. A law that has so many exceptions can't be enforced. We have learnt the best law is one that is 100 per cent smoke free. That's very simple and clear.

DR BERNHARD SCHWARTLANDER, the WHO's representative in China, on the "loopholes" in the new draft, such as allowing restaurants, bars, hotels and airports to set aside smoking areas.

"A law that has so many exceptions can't be enforced. We have learnt the best law is one that is 100 per cent smoke free. That's very simple and clear."

According to the WHO, China is the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco products. More than 300 million people in the country are smokers, representing 28 per cent of the adult population.

But it is hard to clamp down on smoking as the tobacco industry is state-owned and generated more than 1.09 trillion yuan (S$229 billion) in profit and tax revenue last year, the SCMP said.

The tobacco industry is tightly linked to the Chinese economy, feeding over 7 per cent of the central government's annual coffers, the state-owned news website Sixth Tone said, quoting statistics from the World Lung Foundation.

Eighteen mainland cities have passed municipal smoking bans since 2008 and Beijing stood out for its tough enforcement.

Since June 1 last year, Beijing has banned smoking in all indoor public places, including offices and public transport, with no exceptions.

A year on, smoking in indoor public areas in Beijing has dropped from 23.1 per cent to 6.7 per cent and smoking in restaurants has fallen from 40.3 per cent to 14.8 per cent, according to Mr Fang Laiying, director of the Beijing Health and Family Planning Commission.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'China huffs and puffs over smoking ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe