Smoking ban on way for indoor public places

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am

China moved one step closer towards honouring an international commitment to reduce tobacco use by banning smoking in indoor public places including restaurants, bars and public transport, but tobacco control activists doubt whether the ban will be strictly enforced.

The Ministry of Health announced the ban on its website on Tuesday by revising the guidelines for smoking in public spaces, adding a clause prohibiting smoking in indoor ones.

The guidelines also ban installing cigarette-vending machines in public places or allowing outdoor smoking areas to be situated where pedestrians have to pass.

They also require operators of the public places to publicise the harmful effects of smoking as well as employing full-time or part-time staff to discourage people from smoking. The revised regulations will come into effect from May 1.

The mainland failed to meet the deadline on January 9 to honour its commitment to have a thorough indoor smoke-free environment by 2011, after it had ratified the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005. So far, a complete indoor smoking ban has not been achieved in any mainland city.

Earlier this month, the National People's Congress approved a five-year plan that included banning smoking in public places, marking a landmark move in the country with the world's largest population of smokers.

Under the plan, smoking will be banned in all indoor workplaces, indoor public locations and public transport nationwide by 2015.

Ji Yajie, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law who headed a tobacco control law clinic, praised the new guidelines, saying they were the first nationwide regulations to ban indoor smoking even though they might not be totally effective.

'You can say this is milestone achievement even though it is not the kind of legislation mainland [tobacco control] advocates have been campaigning for.'

One flaw of the guidelines, Ji said, was that they failed to include workplaces on the list of public places. The ordinance in 1987 said public places referred to hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, some entertainment venues such as cinemas, museums, waiting rooms at bus stations, airports and public transport.

Dr Yang Gonghuan, China's leading tobacco control expert and deputy director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the new measures had been rushed through and were not in precise legal language.

The problem with the regulations, Yang said, was the omission of punishment for violators.

'You can't count on imposing a smoking ban in such a big country with ministry enforcement guidelines. You have to adopt a national law dedicated to tobacco control to address the issue,' Yang said.

Tobacco control advocates said the best way to impose tobacco control in China would be through national legislation. So far only a few cities, such as Shanghai and Hangzhou and Zhejiang, had legislation in place, but still with no comprehensive indoor public area smoking ban.

China, which accounts for 48 per cent of world tobacco sales, is the world's No1 cigarette manufacturer and consumer. More than half of Chinese men and 2.4 per cent of women in China smoke, according to data compiled by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Long-term plan

Government officials intend to widen the regulations

Smoking will be banned in all indoor workplaces, indoor public spaces and public transport by the year: 2015