Chinese health agency pledges smoking ban by year's end
Health agency's pledge for nationwide regulation outlawing smoking in public places seen as first timetable towards meeting WHO commitment
Mainland health authorities aim to roll out a nationwide smoking ban in public places by year's end, setting for the first time a target date to meet its commitment to cut down on indoor tobacco use.
National Health and Family Planning Commission spokesman Mao Qunan said the agency was working on the regulation with the State Council. A ban has been on the agenda of China's cabinet since last year.
Mao said the commission was also "actively trying to have the National People's Congress to pass a law to contain the harm of tobacco use".
The announcement represents the closest that Beijing has come to a timetable for meeting its pledge to create a smoke-free indoor environment under the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. China ratified the convention in 2005, but missed the deadline to honour it by 2011.
National legislation enacting a ban on smoking in public places has been seen as the most effective way for the government to fulfil its commitment, but so far action has been limited to several cities.
In 2011, the National People's Congress approved a five-year plan that pledged to ban smoking in all indoor work places, indoor public spaces and public transport by 2015 - a huge move for the country with the world's largest population of smokers.
The Health Ministry subsequently issued a regulation banning smoking in all indoor public areas, but failed to outline how it would be implemented or any repercussions for violating it.
China is the world's largest cigarette manufacturer and consumer, with more than 300 million smokers, according to national statistics. Some 740 million people, including 180 million children, are affected by secondary smoke.
Each year, more than one million people die of diseases related to smoking and there are another 100,000 deaths related to secondary smoke, according to the health commission.
Mainland tobacco-control advocates were encouraged by the announcement of the nationwide plan after years of slow progress. Last month, a circular published by the State Council and the Communist Party's decision-making Central Committee banned officials from smoking in schools, hospitals, sport venues, public transport and other places deemed off limits to smokers.
"There have been no concrete moves by the government since issuing the 12th five-year plan," said Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of Chinese Association on Tobacco Control and a professor with Peking Union Medical College. "But the circular showed the political commitment by the current administration and it is more than a restraint to party members and officials."