China’s smoking ban facing tough test as enforcement falters

The 24th World No Tobacco Day, initiated by the World Health Organization, took place on May 31, 2011. China’s Ministry of Health introduced the “Regulations on Health Management in Public Places” on May 1, which banned smoking in indoor public places. One month has passed, but the smoking ban has not yet made a big difference.

Statistics show that there are more than 300 million smokers in China, making up one-third of the world’s smoking population. In addition, some 770 million non-smokers in the country are exposed to secondhand smoke.

According to the 12th Five-Year Plan, passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in March, China will make an all-out effort to completely ban smoking in public places in the next five years.

The blanket smoking ban shows the political will of the Chinese government and is a symbol of social progress. It is also an important measure to change people’s unhealthy lifestyle and to control non-infectious chronic diseases.

Experts noted that smoking has become the biggest threat to the health of the Chinese people. If tobacco use is not effectively curbed, it will be impossible for China to achieve its stated strategic objectives of building a healthy society and greatly improving the average Chinese life expectancy by 2020. If the Chinese government does not take strong tobacco control measures immediately, China will face more severe public health issues than it does today.

Tsinghua University law professor Wang Chen’guang said that China needs to fully realize the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke and draw on the legislative experience of foreign countries as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan. A scientific and practical law enforcement mechanism should be developed, and large-scale campaigns for promoting smoking bans in public places should be conducted regularly, otherwise smoking bans will simply be ineffective.

Lack of specific penalty provisions

Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the Tobacco Control Office under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that there are no penalty provisions regarding both the people who smoke in indoor public places and operators in the new rules. Offenders cannot be effectively punished due to the lack of specific penalty provisions, and together with other reasons such as the light punishments and the blurry subject of law enforcement, the tobacco control work is faced with huge law enforcement problems.

The new rules also did not give clear explanations about whether offices are considered public places. Yang Gonghuan, director of the Tobacco Control Office under the Chinese CDC, said that offices should be included in public places and responsible persons of enterprises should assume the responsibility of a total smoking ban.

“Public institutions and social groups with the function of public administration can be authorized to monitor the implementation of smoking bans in accordance with the administrative penalty authorization system. For example, the authority to supervise can be given to the responsible persons of public places such as Internet bars or restaurants, and once there are people smoking, related responsible persons will be held responsible for it,” said Liu Zuoxiang, a researcher from the Institute of Law under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Protecting non-smokers

“Smoking is the world’s largest public health problem and the greatest threat to human health,” said Yin Dakui, president of the China Association of Health Promotion and Education and the Chinese Medical Doctor Association. He also pointed out that the tobacco use and dependence is a kind of chronic recurrent disease, which has been included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) by the World Health Organization.

According to Hu Angang, Director of the Research Center of National Conditions under Tsinghua University, China currently has more than 770 million people exposed to the harmful environment of tobacco smoke, and tobacco has become the most dangerous factor to human health. Results of the “Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2010” show that more than 75 percent of the people in China do not fully know the risks smoking can bring to human health, and more two-thirds do not know about the risks of second-hand smoke. The data is essentially the same as the survey results of 2002.

“It is to protect the health of non-smokers rather than to limit the rights of smokers that China has put a ban on smoking in indoor public places all over the country,” said Yang. He points out that the ban will reduce the huge health risks brought by smoking and second-hand smoke, protect every citizen from being harmed by second-hand smoke and safeguard every citizen’s right to health.

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