Chinese health experts optimistic over anti-smoking law
Public health experts say anti-smoking laws will continue to fail unless they are properly implemented and enforced
Public health experts are optimistic that the mainland's draft tobacco-control regulation has a good chance of curbing smoking if properly implemented.
It also calls for all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to be banned, while graphic and verbal health warnings must take up at least half the outside of a cigarette pack.
The draft details specific government agencies that will handle offences in different areas and lists penalties for offenders.
Individuals smoking in forbidden areas will be fined between 50 yuan (HK$63) and 500 yuan and businesses face fines of up to 30,000 yuan or even the revocation of their business licences.
Smoking will not be permitted to be shown in movies or television shows, and scenes of actors lighting up could also attract 30,000 yuan fines.
"We can safely say the draft has thoroughly adopted the most important articles of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control," said Yang Jie, a researcher at the office of tobacco control at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
China ratified the convention in 2005 but has failed to introduce a complete smoking ban in indoor public areas, as required.
The issue now is whether the mainland will water down the rules in the final law, and how well it will be implemented.
The lobbying power of the state-owned tobacco monopoly is significant - tobacco sales contributed between 7 per cent and 10 per cent of the country's tax revenue over the past decade.
"There are some articles in the law that the tobacco companies might oppose during the consultation period. We will send our opinions. We expect there will be some wrangling with the industry," Yang said.
"As for implementation, the best chance of making it effective is to involve multiple government agencies."
Smoking is common across the mainland, even in hospitals and government offices. The former health ministry issued its own ban on smoking in indoor public areas but it was poorly implemented. Several cities have introduced their own smoking bans, with some enforced by a dozen or more agencies while others are policed by only a few.
Yang researched 10 cities and found that regulations involving multiple agencies had the best chance of working as long as they had to report to a central office.
Shenzhen, for example, did not hand out a single fine under previous smoking rules, yet had issued more than 300,000 yuan in fines since March when a tougher regulation came into effect.
Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the think tank Research Centre for Health Development, said the law's articles included details of implementation and accountability. "I am very optimistic," he said. Both Yang and Wu agreed the State Council's proposed regulations would help control tobacco use even without a more senior law passed by the NPC, which could take years.