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Smokers may face five days in jail

Kelly Chan, SCMP

Five days’ detention for people who defy the smoking ban at indoor public places or fire-risk areas has been ordered by the Ministry of Public Security.

The move is part of a 50-day campaign to prepare a safe environment for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.

The draconian detention measure in a country that boasts the world’s largest smoking population became a talking point after a man caught smoking in a shopping mall in Chongqing was jailed for five days by police on Saturday.

Yuzhong district police caught the 56-year-old Hubei native smoking during a patrol, the Chongqing Evening News reported. He was the first in Chongqing to be detained for smoking in a shopping mall.

The fire department considered the mall to be a major fire hazard, as it was full of flammable materials, while the firefighting facilities were insufficient.

A Yuzhong district fire department official said the man’s detention was intended to act as a deterrent to smokers in the mall, and to prevent a fatal disaster.

The man’s son complained that the punishment was harsh. He believed a 500 yuan (HK$565) fine would have been appropriate because his father had not fought with police and did not know of the policy.

Wang Dezhi , deputy director of the Chongqing fire prevention department, said the punishment complied with an instruction from the Ministry of Public Security last month.

The fire bureau, which is under that ministry, held a teleconference on August 20. Its director, Chen Weiming, announced a 50-day campaign to prepare a safe environment for the 60th-anniversary celebrations.

Leading officials ordered local fire departments to implement strict and heavy penalties for six actions that could lead to a blaze.

The penalties included five days’ detention for people who smoke or use a naked flame in places with a risk of fire and explosions.

The conference also called on local firefighters and police to check all government offices, venues for National Day celebration activities, and premises with a risk of fire or explosions, such as petrol stations and shopping malls and restaurants.

Fires in poorly managed shopping malls are common on the mainland.

In January last year, an inferno killed three firefighters and two members of the public in a building housing a wholesale mall, a hotel and a trade office in Urumqi , capital of Xinjiang .

Twelve floors of the building were engulfed in flames for 68 hours until only the burned-out shell was left.

The Chinese Association of Tobacco Control said there were about 350 million smokers on the mainland – 30 per cent of the population aged over 15. China is the biggest manufacturer and consumer of tobacco in the world.

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