Bans no big deal yet for Shanghai smokers
Will Clem in Shanghai
Shanghai's partial smoking ban has produced a lacklustre response, with widespread confusion over how far it extends and who should enforce it.
The new restrictions, which came into force on Monday, ban smoking outright in schools and kindergartens, hospitals, supermarkets and in lifts. Larger restaurants, dance halls, internet cafes and karaoke bars are required to set aside designated non-smoking areas.
Fines of between 50 yuan (HK$56) and 200 yuan are to be imposed - but first-time offenders are to be let off with a warning.
Away from the city's upmarket shopping districts, there seems little enthusiasm for the ban.
'If customers insist on smoking, we can't force them to stop,' a waiter in a large restaurant north of People's Square said.
Most establishments have paid only lip service to the regulations, with designated non-smoking seating often situated alongside tables for smokers.
Questions also remain about how the rules are to be enforced.
The city has recruited an army of 20,000 volunteer smoke monitors, but they have not been given the legal power to issues fines or to prevent offenders from leaving before the proper authorities arrive.
The clampdown on smoking in public places has been rushed through ahead of the Shanghai World Expo - which starts on May 1 - as the city strives to project its image as a world-class metropolis.
In doing so, Shanghai is following a growing trend across Asia. In recent years, strict regulations on smoking in most public places have been introduced in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, India and Malaysia, though the extent of the restrictions varies.
Shanghai is also one of the first big mainland cities to implement a ban. Guangzhou and Jiangmen , both in Guangdong province, introduced trial bans in 2007, but little effort was made to enforce the rules.
Awareness of the health risks of smoking remains in its relative infancy across most of the mainland, particularly the dangers attributed to passive smoking.
The largely state-run tobacco industry remains a powerful lobby that resists efforts to curb smoking.
There are 350 million smokers on the mainland, accounting for a third of global cigarette consumption.
Smoking and related diseases are estimated to cost the mainland more than 252 billion yuan a year in medical costs. According to World Health Organisation statistics, about 3,000 people die on the mainland due to smoking-related illnesses every day.
But there are signs that the tide is beginning to turn, even beyond Shanghai. Seven other major mainland cities - Tianjin, Chongqing, Shenyang, Harbin, Nanchang, Lanzhou and Shenzhen - held a summit in Tianjin in January to put forward plans for smoking restrictions that may go even further than Shanghai.
The cities aim to implement a ban to 'guarantee 100 per cent smoke-free public venues and workplaces', but as yet no timetable for implementation has been announced.
Cigarette companies constitute a powerful lobby group
The approximate proportion of global cigarette consumption by mainlanders: 33%