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China back-pedals on tough national smoke-free law

Changes to draft legislation would let people light up in restaurants, bars, hotels and airports

China has back-pedalled on a proposed national smoke-free law, with plans now to grant exemptions to restaurants, bars, hotels and airports.

Sources who have read the draft said they were shocked by how much it had been watered down from the version put up for public consultation in November 2014. That earlier draft proposed a ban on smoking at all indoor, and some outdoor, public spaces.

The latest version of the Ordinance on Smoking Control in Public Spaces would allow restaurants, bars, hotels and airports to set aside smoking areas, several sources who have seen the draft said. The changes are a major departure from the 12th five-year plan, which ended last year and called for a complete smoking ban in public spaces.

Bernhard Schwartländer, the World Health Organisation’s representative in China, said the WHO was worried by the changes.

A law that has so many exceptions can’t be enforced. We have learned the best law is one that is 100 per cent smoke free.

“You see again and again in the world such exceptions built in the law and it doesn’t do much to protect the health of the people from second-hand smoke. A law that has so many exceptions can’t be enforced. We have learned the best law is one that is 100 per cent smoke free. That’s is very simple and clear,” Schwartländer said.

With about 315 million smokers, the mainland is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of tobacco products. And roughly 700 million people are routinely exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the WHO.

Tobacco control is difficult on the mainland because the industry is state-owned and lucrative, generating more than 1.09 trillion yuan (HK$1.3 trillion) in profit and tax revenue last year.

A national health official campaigning to restrict tobacco use said some cities already had strict laws banning smoking in all indoor public areas and “we’d rather have no law at all than have a national law that says it is OK to smoke indoors”.

Eighteen mainland cities have passed municipal smoking bans since 2008 and of those Beijing’s is the strongest. The law, introduced in the capital in June last year, complies fully with the WHO’s call for a complete ban on smoking in all indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public areas and other public places.

A year after it came in, smoking in indoor public areas in Beijing has dropped from 23.1 per cent to 6.7 per cent and smoking in restaurants fallen from 40.3 per cent to 14.8 per cent, according to Fang Laiying, director of the Beijing Health and Family Planning Commission.

But the manager of Hua’s Restaurant in Beijing said allowing smoking areas in restaurants would make his job much easier.

“Some customers are not from Beijing. Some are drunk. It’s very difficult to persuade them not to smoke in the restaurant,” he said.


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