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November 26, 2016

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Smoking ban welcome but raising awareness is the key

THERE are plenty of compelling everyday social situations that I’ve experienced in China that I would never see back home. Yelling out “waiter!” in a restaurant, watching frail old ladies racing for a single empty subway seat, and seeing small children perched helmet-less on the back or front of fast-moving scooters weaving through city traffic.

China is crazy, it’s different, it’s amazing, and I love it.

Smoking indoors? Yeah, not so much.

It has pretty much been accepted worldwide that smoking, and secondhand smoke, are toxic. The World Health Organization says that every year, one in 10 adults die because of tobacco. In China, there are an estimated 316 million smokers, and each year 1.5 million die due to smoking-related illnesses.

But it is smoking’s effect on non-smokers who are forced to breathe in smoke-filled air that makes me the most angry, especially when it takes places in locations where smokers should know better.

Many times I’ve experienced smokers in elevators, universities, and even kindergartens. And this secondhand smoke kills, too.

Bernhard Schwartlander, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, said that deaths from secondhand smoking are “entirely preventable” and “simply unacceptable.”

In China I definitely feel that I am a guest, so I will very rarely speak up as I would back home in New Zealand when I think someone is doing something they shouldn’t be.

But when I encounter smokers in elevators, public toilets (why do so many people think men’s toilets are smoking rooms?) and schools, I really can’t help myself.

At least now I will be backed up by the law, because the Shanghai Municipal Government recently passed new smoking legislation, which will ban smoking in all public places from March next year.

Mao Qun’an, of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said that the biggest obstacle for smoking laws in China is the public’s lack of awareness around the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoking. That makes sense, otherwise why would people smoke so blatantly in front of small children or blow smoke in strangers’ faces inside tiny elevators?

So I’m happy to see that, as part of the ban, education will be increased around the dangers of smoking.

“The Chinese government will enhance publicity on the harm of tobacco, make legislation and carry out tax and price reforms on tobacco products to meet the requirements of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” Mao said at a media conference.

But will it work?

Shanghai’s first smoking ban was enforced back in 2010, albeit in a more limited capacity, but it has been reported that the air inside and around smoke ban locations still contains high amounts of PM2.5, a cancer-causing toxin.

Well this time, the public can report both violators and venues that don’t follow the ban.

Individuals will be slapped with an instant fine of 50-200 yuan (US$7-29), and venues will be forced to pay up to a whopping 30,000 yuan. You can send photos of smokers, or lax venues, to a new hotline (12345) set up specifically to help enforce the smoking ban.

On top of that, restaurants and hotels and other public places are required to take on special staff to stop people from smoking, to educate people about the smoking ban and the dangers of smoking, and to report violations to authorities.

To be honest, I think it will be enough to have a word with staff if you encounter a smoker, and remind them of the new legislation. If not, you can use the complaints service as a last resort.

I’m really excited about this new legislation, and the promise that it will go nationwide next year. I hope that it really works, and that fewer and fewer people die from such a preventable cause.


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