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Other cities must follow Beijing’s example on smoking bans

The smoking ban introduced in Beijing last Monday was never going to be an instant success. Far too many of the capital’s people smoke and too many businesses rely on their patronage. Two previous such measures made little headway, so expectations, even among municipal officials, was low. Yet no matter how limited the inspections or the number of fines handed out, the increased awareness of the dangers posed will advance efforts to force smokers to stub out the habit.

One in five of Beijing’s 20 million people smoke. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs have made them welcome with ashtrays and owners were unenthusiastic about the new rules. But although there has so far been little noticeable change in the amount of smoking on the city’s streets, the message is slowly sinking in through fines and calls to a special hotline, 12320. Success will be measured less by how many offenders are penalised than the number convinced to quit.

This is, after all, the toughest ban yet imposed. It extends from government offices to hotels, restaurants, recreational centres and public transport. Outdoor places near hospitals, schools and some tourist sites have also been designated smoke-free. Shops within 100 metres of kindergartens and primary schools will no longer be able to sell cigarettes.

The World Health Organisation estimates one million of China’s 300 million smokers die each year of ailments including cancer and heart disease, while second-hand smoke claims a further 100,000. A recent study by the Beijing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee found 90 per cent of patrons of bars and clubs and 65 per cent of diners were probably exposed to tobacco fumes. Any effort to limit the effects is welcome.

Advertising was last month banned in the mass media, on public transport and in outdoor public places and national taxes on cigarettes doubled. Gradually, an environment is being created that frowns upon smoking. Beijing’s ban has to be properly enforced and extended to other cities.

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