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Study supports need for law on public smoking

A SURVEY investigating the present state of Shanghai's smoking controls has led health experts to conclude that only a strict law with effective penalties will keep public venues free of tobacco fumes.

They also found that most business owners supported greater restrictions on smoking in public.

The results of the study were released yesterday by the Shanghai Health Supervision Agency, which is under the Shanghai Health Bureau. The bureau is working with the city's People's Congress to draft a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places.

The new law is an outgrowth of efforts that began more than a decade ago. Shanghai implemented its first ban on smoking in some public places in 1994 and amended it in 1997. Venues such as hospitals, schools, museums, dance halls, game parlors, stores over 200 square meters, indoor stadiums and public transport facilities were included.

The Health Supervision Agency, which was charged with enforcing the rule, carried out an investigation late last year to study the effects of the existing ban and to gauge support for a tougher law that is part of the 2009 legislation agenda for the local People's Congress.

Health officials visited 448 public venues covered by the existing rule and found that 92 percent of them properly implemented control measures such as installing no-smoking signs, preventing the sale of cigarettes and persuading people to smoke outside or in designated areas with good ventilation.

Dance halls, game parlors and teahouses were the poorest in terms of compliance, as only 42 percent of these venues had installed no-smoking signs and few made customers stop smoking.

Punishment for violating the rule is a fine ranging from 600 yuan (US$87.70) to 1,000 yuan for business owners. There are no penalties for smokers.

"The city has made improvements in smoking control in public venues in the past decade," said Zheng Chaojun of the Shanghai Health Supervision Agency. "But people still complain about exposure to passive smoking, as places like restaurants and hotels are not included in the existing rule."

He said the new law is expected to cover all public venues and workplaces and enhance public awareness about smoking control.

"Only about 10,000 places are covered by the old rule. If the new law expands its coverage to all public venues and workplaces, there will be more than 1 million no-smoking sites," Zheng said. "Supervision is another tough task, and whether smokers will be fined by the new law is also a major concern."

More-effective smoking controls were welcomed by most local business owners contacted in the health agency's survey, with around 58 saying they support the proposed new law.


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