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Beijing to introduce tough anti-smoking laws amid scepticism over enforcement, conflict of interest

China’s capital prepares to introduce what has been promoted as its toughest smoke-free law, amidst considerable scepticism over enforcement issues and an unresolved conflict of interest.

The WHO says inhaling second-hand smoke is even worse than breathing the air in Beijing on a very polluted day. (Credit: ABC licensed)

China’s capital is preparing to introduce what is being promoted as its toughest smoke-free law, amid considerable scepticism over enforcement issues and an unresolved conflict of interest.

Smoking in all indoor places, work places and public transport will be banned in the city from June 1.

Advertisements will not be allowed in mass media, public spaces, billboards and outdoor areas. All forms of tobacco promotion and title sponsorship will also not be permitted.

Businesses that flout the law will be fined up to 10,000 renminbi (RMB) or around $2,000 and repeat offenders could potentially have their licenses revoked.

“If we can show a very good law can be implemented in Beijing, we believe it will have an impact on how the national law will be formulated because then there will be no reason why we can’t do it in other places,” said the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) China representative Dr Bernhard Schwartlander.

Thousands of health inspectors are being trained to make sure people butt out when they are supposed to.

In a separate move, China’s ministry of finance recently announced a tax increase on the wholesale price of tobacco.

The move will affect the retail price for the first time.

However, the Beijing government faces considerable scepticism over the enforcement of the new law because previous efforts have been widely ignored.

The new price of a pack of cigarettes is unlikely to be a deterrent, as prices for one of the cheapest brands will rise by only 50 cents to 5.50 RMB or around $1.10.

China yet to address crucial conflict of interest

China also has not addressed a crucial conflict of interest, as the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration runs and regulates the country’s cigarette maker China National Tobacco Corporation.

“It’s like the health minister showing up at a cabinet meeting about tobacco control law and the meeting is chaired by Philip Morris,” said Dr Angela Pratt, who heads the WHO’s tobacco-free initiative.

Dr Pratt was once chief of staff to Australia’s former health minister Nicola Roxon.

Most of China’s 300 million smokers — the world’s largest population of smokers — are men but the number of young female smokers is beginning to rise.

An estimated one million people die from tobacco-related diseases a year on the mainland, with lung cancer the number one cause of death among Chinese men.

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