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All eyes on Beijing as China, world’s largest tobacco consumer, bans public smoking

Anyone caught violating the ban must pay 200 yuan (US$32.25)

Beijing has banned smoking in restaurants, offices and on public transport from Monday, part of unprecedented new curbs welcomed by anti-tobacco advocates, though how they will be enforced remains to be seen.

Health activists have pushed for years for stronger restrictions on smoking on the mainland, the world’s largest tobacco consumer, which is considering further anti-smoking curbs nationwide.

Under the rules, anyone in the capital who violates the ban, which includes smoking near schools and hospitals, must pay a 200 yuan (HK$250) fine. The present fine, which is seldom enforced, is just 10 yuan.

Anyone who breaks the law three times will be named and shamed on a government website. Businesses, meanwhile, can be fined up to 10,000 yuan for failing to stamp out smoking on their premises.

“Restaurant staff have a duty to try to dissuade people from smoking,” said Mao Qunan, of the National Health and Family Planning Commission. “If they don’t listen to persuasion, then law enforcement authorities will file a case against them.”

The government would also no longer allow cigarettes to be sold in shops within 100 metres of primary schools and kindergartens, according to state media.

Smoking is a major health crisis on the mainland, where more than 300 million smokers have made cigarettes part of the social fabric, and millions more are exposed to secondhand smoke. More than half of mainland smokers buy cigarettes at less than five yuan a pack.

The legislature passed a law last month banning tobacco advertisements in mass media, on public transport and in outdoor public spaces. Many mainland cities have banned smoking in outdoor public places, but enforcement has been lax.

Bright red banners, typically used to display government slogans, have been posted around Beijing with anti-smoking messages. The city has also set up a hotline on which violators can be reported.

The names of people and companies who violate the rules more than three times would be posted on a government website for a month, state radio said.

Anti-tobacco advocates said they were more confident in the government’s will to enforce the bans after a series of tougher measures in recent months, including a higher tobacco tax.

“We couldn’t say this is the strongest law in the world,” said Angela Pratt, of the World Health Organisation’s Tobacco Free Initiative.

“But it’s certainly up there with the strongest, in that there are no exemptions, no exceptions and no loopholes on the indoor smoking ban requirement.”

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