Attractive smoking spaces by Chinese start-up Yanker spark outcry from health campaigners

  • Start-up that specialises in providing an attractive environment for smokers may have broken the law with latest facility
  • China has the highest number of smokers in the world but the authorities are trying to reduce that with public health initiatives
PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 11:15am

A company that set up a shared smoking space in one of Beijing’s busiest shopping streets has triggered a debate about public health as campaigners warned the new facility may be against the law.

Yanker, which means smoker in Chinese, is a start-up that has already opened 12 smoking rooms in major cities and airports with air filtering systems to provide a comfortable environment for smokers.

But the latest venture, a 78-square-metre open-air smoking area in the middle of Wangfujing Street, the busiest commercial street in Beijing, has proved the most controversial.

Public health officials have warned that the 18-seat facility, complete with stainless steel ashtrays and decorated with plants, may have breached the capital’s tobacco control laws and have asked the relevant authorities to investigate.

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The Beijing Tobacco Control Association said it did not comply with the requirement that smoking hubs have to display signs warning of the health risks from smoking and should be located away from busy areas.

Cui Xiaobo, the vice secretary of the Beijing Tobacco Control Association said he had already filed complaints to the relevant departments, although the facility remains open for now.

“This facility is way too much, you cannot build something just because you are rich,” Cui told the reporter.

Li Enzi, a lawyer, told news portal Thepaper.cn that it may also have breached a number of laws, including laws on health, fire safety, advertising and protection of minors.

“To teenagers, a scene like this is a tobacco advertisement,” Wu Yiqun, a researcher from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told bjnew.com.cn.

It was not clear how Yanker, which is an offshoot of Beijing Zhongdu Ecological Technology Company, gained approval for the facility and the company did not respond to a request for comment.

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More than a million people a year die in China from smoking-related illnesses and the country has the world’s biggest number of smokers, around 350 million.

In recent years the authorities have taken a number of steps to reduce the number of smokers, although enforcement remains patchy in many places.

The country also set the goal of reducing the number of smokers to below 20 per cent in its Health China 2030 Plan.

However, if current trends continue the number of tobacco-related deaths is set to rise to two million by 2030 and three million by 2050, according to an Oxford University survey published in The Lancet.

In 2015, the Beijing city authorities banned smoking in indoor public spaces, in offices and in public transport and also imposed restrictions of tobacco advertising and ordered that cigarette packets should include a health warning.

The measures saw the number of smokers drop slightly to 22.3 per cent of the city’s adult population, according to data from the Beijing Health Promotion Work Committee.