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January 14, 2012

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Lawmakers get tough on smoking

TOUGHER action is required to stub out smoking in public areas, lawmakers from the city's top legislative body said yesterday.

Shanghai should increase punishments for smoking in tobacco-free zones and restrict smoking in restaurants and bars, according to the proposal to the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress by Qian Liping, the congress's deputy.

The city should also increase tobacco taxes and increase anti-smoking advertising, proposed Qian, a lawyer with the Shanghai Jun He Law firm.

More than a dozen lawmakers endorsed the proposal.

Under the proposal, the penalty for smoking in prohibited areas would increase to 2,000 yuan (US$318), compared to current fines of between 50 and 200 yuan.

Repeat offenders would face higher penalties.

"The current punishment is not severe enough. Most smokers just don't care," said Qian.

Punishment in Hong Kong is HK$5,000 (US$641) and up to US$2,000 in the United States, deputies said.

Meanwhile, smoking areas in restaurants and bars should be no more than 10 percent of the total area, according to the proposal.

But tobacco law enforcers believe the most important task is to cut red tape surrounding their work and extend laws to more areas - such as offices - rather than simply increasing fines.

"A critical problem is that law enforcers have difficulties punishing individuals smoking in tobacco-free areas," said Gu Xiping, an official with the Shanghai Health Promotion Commission.

Gu said fewer than 10 individuals have been fined since bans in certain areas were introduced in March, 2010.

According to Gu, a complicated law enforcement procedure is to blame for this low figure.

Gu also said more residents are complaining to hotlines about smokers in offices.

"But there is little we can do as legislation does not cover offices," she explained.


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