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China Focus: Beijing awarded by WHO for new smoking ban

BEIJING, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Beijing was honored by the World Health Organization (WHO) on World No Tobacco Day on Sunday for the city's new smoking ban, set to take effect on June 1.

The new ban, the country's toughest to date, prohibits smoking in all the city's indoor public places, workplaces, and on public transportation.

"We applauded Beijing for its strong and determined leadership in protecting the health of its people by making public places smoke-free. We are delighted to be formally recognizing the Beijing Municipal Government with a WHO World No Tobacco Day Award," said Shin Young-soo, Regional Director for the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office.

According to the WHO, Beijing's law is compliant with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and when fully implemented, will have a major impact on the health of Beijing's millions of residents.

Following the ban, the capital's airport on Monday will close three smoking rooms in its three terminals and open 11 smoking spaces outside. New outdoor smoking areas will be available at more than 600 bus stops around the city.

Residents can report indoor smoking in public venues, and law enforcement officers will patrol Beijing's roads to help implement the regulation.

As the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer, China has more than 300 million smokers, almost the size of the U.S. population. Another 740 million people are exposed to second-hand smoke each year.

According to official data, more than one million Chinese people die from smoking-related diseases annually.

The country is adopting its strictest measures yet in the latest tobacco-control efforts. However, challenges remain.

According to an online survey conducted by Xinhua prior to the implementation of the ban, of 22,392 participants polled as of Saturday, only 17 percent believe the ban will be effective, and 49 percent worry about its feasibility while another 34 percent believe it is more important for the country to reduce tobacco output.

When asked about the biggest challenge for tobacco control, 47 percent chose "weak penalties," ahead of "restaurants allow their customers to smoke," "low public supervision awareness" and "smokers won't listen to requests from others."

Thirty-six percent of respondents said they or their friends have been asked to stop smoking, while 64 percent said they had not.

Seventy-seven percent of people said they would either walk away or tolerate someone else smoking in public, while only 23 percent said they would directly ask or have staff ask smokers to stop.

"After the ban takes effect, the city's law enforcement still needs to work out ways to implement the regulations to the letter and make smokers who defy the ban receive due punishment," said Xu Guihua, deputy director of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.

Wang Huanyu, a 22-year-old student at the Communication University of China, saw posters for the new smoking ban near his dormitory. He said, "I will worry about being seen or reported when I smoke in public spaces, but I doubt the punishment will be carried out every single time someone breaks the rule."

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