Friday, August 28, 2015

What’s New About the New Smoking Ban in China?

Being the world’s biggest tobacco producer and consumer, China has more than 300 million smokers consuming a third of the world’s cigarettes. Almost a third of adults and more than half of adult men regard themselves as regular tobacco users, according to the figures shown by WHO (World Health Organization). It is a common greeting among men in China to offer a cigarette, and a carton of cigarettes is often considered a popular gift.

Smoking could bring along many health risks including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Many smokers, however, are simply not aware of these risks. Each year, more than 1 million people in China die from smoking-related illness. Another 740 million of Chinese are exposed to second-hand smoke and more than 100,000 of them die from second-hand smoke. 

Chinese authorities declared in 2011 that smoking is prohibited in all public spaces nationwide including hotels and restaurants. But the rules were fairly vague and often flouted by Chinese smokers who are not keen in abiding the laws. Hence the smoking ban have more or less failed to curb the habit. Meanwhile, anti-smoking campaigners are accusing the authorities not offering sufficient warning to the smokers about the risks. Instead, the authorities are blamed to be addicted to the tax revenues generated by cigarette sales.

On June 1, 2015 (International Children's Day), a day after World No-Tobacco Day organized by WHO in 1987, Beijing (China) imposed a tough new smoking ban, threatening to name and shame repeat offenders and levying fines 20 times higher than existing penalties. Areas banned for smoking include offices, restaurants and public transport. Offenders will be fined up to 200 yuan (US$32), compared to 10 yuan (US$1.60) under a law passed in 2011.

Under the new law, anyone who is caught breaking the law 3 times will be named and shamed on a government website. 1,000 inspectors are deployed by the city government to enforce the law. It is expected that the new law will permanently bring clean air to all of Beijing’s indoor public places. It would also protect Beijing’s more than 20 million people from exposing to toxic second-hand smoke.

The new law does not seem to be a big deal, but the power of Internet should never be under estimated. Reaction of online citizens in Asia can be very harsh in condemning inappropriate behavior. In 2005, when a woman in South Korea who refused to clean up her dog’s waste was caught in photos that was posted online, the Internet users swiftly discerned her identity. She was harassed so badly that she finally quitted her university.

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