Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health

CHINA-HEALTH: To Ban Smoking, China Uses Persuasion And Coercion

Zhao Qinghua

BEIJING, Sep 26 1996 (IPS) - Authorities in the Chinese capital have organised a new army. Its target: to keep Beijing’s public places free of tobacco smoke.

Beijing authorities enforced in May a city-wide ban on smoking in public, and mobilised more than 80,000 people for the campaign. It assigned 16 large and medium-size hospitals to help those who wish to quit smoking cope with withdrawal difficulties.

With a cigarette-puffing population of 350 million as target, China has embarked on a campaign to snuff out the smoking epidemic in the world’s most populous country of 1.2 billion people.

Beijing, a city of about eight million people, is the 26th in China to introduce stringent rules against smoking in public. But it is the first city to have imposed the ban through a law enacted by the Municipal People’s Congress last December.

To enforce the law and fine offenders, an army of more than 80,000 people have been trained and dispatched to shopping centres, hospitals, schools, railway stations and other public places around the city.

Volunters have also handed out millions of pamphlets on the streets warning pedestrians and motorists of the hazards of smoking.

Places that come under the ban are hospitals, schools, meeting rooms, theatres, shops and public transport. Restaurants and offices are still not covered because of difficulties in enforcement.

A 29-year-old office worker and a cleaner in Beijing are particularly happy about the ban.

“I feel relieved because I am no longer surrounded by clouds of smoke in offices and meeting rooms,” says Xie Jinjin, an employee who is allergic to cigarette smoke. Now a plastic ‘No Smoking’ sign is nailed to her office door.

“I don’t need to clean ash trays full of cigarette butts from now on because nobody will use them anymore,” says a sanitary worker of a government agency while cleaning a meeting room.

Smokers who flout the ban are fined 10 yuan (1.20 dollars), and institutional violators, from 1,000 to 5,000 yuan (120 to 600 dollars).

“Our principle is to combine the ban with persuasion, limit non- smoking areas and manage them rigorously and then gradually expand them,” says Zhou Yubin, director of Beijing’s health committee.

Results have been satisfactory, says the Municipal Patriotic Health Committee.

In the first two months of the ban’s implementation, it said only 100 out of 10,000 public places that were inspected received warnings for failing to comply with the law, and only two organisations were fined because of slow implementation and isolated cases of smoking in public.

School authorities say they restrict students from smoking through “education, regulation, demonstration and coercion”. Many long-time smoking teachers and other university staff have quit in order to set an example for students, they add.

“I’m thinking of smoking less and trying to quit,” says Tian Yong, vice-president of the Beijing No 4 Middle School and a smoker 26 years.

Each year, some 1.2 million people die of respiratory diseases which are closely linked to smoking, according to the findings of a survey by the Ministry of Public Health.

It said 60 per cent of males aged between 15 and 25 are smokers, a figure that jumps to 70 per cent for those over 25 years old. Although the rate for female smokers is low, their number is growing, it added.

The ministry warns that if the trend is not curbed, two million people would die of tobacco-related diseases annually by 2025.

In support of the campaign, the state plans to eliminate all tobacco advertising before year 2000.

As the anti-smoking campaign gathers momentum, the tobacco industry, which contributes the biggest share of revenue to the state, is feeling the squeeze.

Chen Yuangqin, vice-president of the China National Tobacco Corp (CNTC), says he fears that with the ban, cigarette making will be on its way to becoming a ‘sunset’ industry.

The company said it has cut production to 34.25 million cases (50,000 cigarettes per case) this year, 470,000 cases fewer than last year.

It said in the first four months of the year, China produced 11.3 million cases of cigarettes, down 1.7 per cent from the same period last year. Sales were down by 2.3 per cent, it said.

The figures do not yet reflect the impact of the ban on Beijing, but the Beijing Cigarette Sales Company says cigarette sales in the second quarter were low. But the tobacco industry says it has taken measures to improve economic efficiency to be able to raise adequate funds for the state. In the past five years, the industry generated more than 250 billion yuan (30 billion dollars) in profits and taxes, compared with 110 billion yuan (13.2 billion dollars) in the 1986- 1990 period.

The ban, however, may not necessarily spell disaster for cigarette producers, who are innovating to be able to survive the expected slack in business. Next, they plan to introduce cigarettes with medicinal substances.

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