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August 5, 2013

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No-smoking Etiquette

Editor’s note:

This “Ask Shanghai Daily” column, which runs every Monday, serves as a platform for expatriates to ask questions about things that puzzle them during their stay in the city.

An American expat asks us:

I’m a non-smoker, but when someone here offers me a cigarette, I have often felt bad turning them down, like it was some kind of an insult. What’s the best way to refuse offers of tobacco, without offending the person making the offer?

A: In China, many people offer a cigarette to show their friendliness, especially at business meetings or friends’ gatherings.

If you want to turn down offers of tobacco, we suggest you simply tell the truth.

You can say: “I’m so sorry, I’m a non-smoker. Anyway, thank you for your kindness.”

We think Chinese people will be able to feel your sincerity in this way, even though you have not accepted their cigarettes.

As we all know, smoking is a bad habit. But China still has 300 million smokers, and 28.1 percent of people over the age of 15 smoke. The rate among males has reached 52.96 percent, according to Xinhua news agency.

If you’re a non-smoker, you must be annoyed with smoking in public venues. China’s current anti-smoking law, which came into effect on March 1, 2010, bans smoking in 13 types of public venues, including kindergartens, museums and Internet bars.

It requires smoking and non-smoking areas in entertainment venues like dancing halls, restaurants and starred hotels. But we are ashamed to say many smokers ignore the ‘No Smoking’ signs in the city. If you encounter such a problem, go to the person and stop him or her from smoking, or you tell the waiter. If a smoker still ignores the friendly reminder, just move away. The elderly, smokers and people regularly exposed to second-hand smoke are at the highest risk of cancers.

However, if you do smoke, you can accept the cigarette and reply with a “thank you.” And if you also have a pack of cigarettes, it’s considered polite to give one back to every smoker at the meeting or gathering. Once is generally enough. If you don’t know who the smokers are, just observe the first person to offer cigarettes. Or you can simply stay quiet and enjoy the smoke-free party.

If you have any questions about life in the city, feel free to e-mail them to or send them to our WeChat account “SHDaily.”



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