Beijing bans indoor smoking

Finally, a ban I can get on board with!

People are no longer allowed to smoke in indoor public spaces — restaurants, malls, office buildings, etc. etc. etc. I’ve heard that “indoor” means anything covered by a roof.

But wait! Isn’t indoor smoking already banned? Well, it was, but then it was unbanned.

But wait! Didn’t China ban it again? Yes, it did. But that law, national in scope, went into effect four whole years ago and was promptly forgotten. I’m more optimistic (cautiously) about this one, though, because:

  1. It’s a local, Beijing-only law. Local governments are much more willing to enforce their own regulations, obviously because they fit such local government’s agenda more than national laws do. In this case, Beijing is determined to become a world capital, so adopting a smoking standard on par with other major international cities is only logical.
  2. It’s backed by enforcement measures. While it remains to be seen how and to what extent the ban will be implemented, at least sanctions have been spelled out. Individual violators face a 200 kuai ($32) fine, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that amount can buy about five decent meals or a week’s worth of groceries to feed an entire household. Also, the previous fine was only a mythical 10 kuai, so you could say the fine has increased twenty-fold. Businesses — which are responsible for ensuring compliance — can be fined up to 10,000 kuai ($1,600), and repeat offenders can even have their business license revoked. There’s even a WeChat account for reporting violations.
  3. There’s quite a bit of hype about it. In addition to launching the WeChat account, authorities, with the World Health Organization’s help, have been campaigning for the past 1.5 months to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.
  4. China raised the cigarette tax from 5 percent to 11 percent. The state’s tobacco monopoly is a powerful cash cow whose goals are, you could say, at odds with those of public health officials, so this substantial tax increase may be the biggest sign that China — not just Beijing — is serious about curbing smoking.
  5. I just really want it to be true. Man, I’m so tired of smelling cigarette smoke. My Chinese dream is that this ban is only a stepping stone to a ban on smoking in all public places, indoor or not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop walking or run ahead or hold my breath while walking down the street because someone was smoking. I generally tolerate it (you have to in China), but Chinese cigarettes can be absurdly strong and smoky. What’s the point of complaining about air pollution if you’re just going to smoke or breathe in someone else’s smoke?

For more on bans in China, see here, here and here.


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