China’s capital has long been a smokers’ paradise: there are few places one can find in Beijing, from taxi queues, tourist sites and restaurants to even lifts in office buildings and hospital waiting rooms, that are smoke-free.
One in four residents in Beijing, according to one recent survey, is a smoker: that’s a 5 million population of smokers in a single city.
Starting Monday, however, the Beijing is launching China’s biggest ever crackdown on smoking, unleashing a multi-pronged campaign that officials hope will rid the city of its polluted image.
Over the past year, Beijing already put in place an effective campaign to battle air pollution and smog, imposing restrictions on vehicles and closing down polluting power plants in the city’s vicinity.
The result has been the first winter in more than five years where the average index of PM 2.5 particulates has declined, although readings are still above what the World Health Organisation (WHO) mandates as safe.
On the back of a public driven campaign against air pollution, the city is now launching its most aggressive battle till date on smoking. One poster that has sprung up across the city warns that if residents were aggrieved by PM 2.5 daily average readings of 100, the equivalent pollution in a room of 5 smokers would be ‘1200’.
Starting Monday, the Beijing airport is closing down all 14 smoking rooms, opening up 17 new areas outside the airport terminal.
Smokers found in the vicinity of public places such as schools and hospitals will face a 200 Yuan (Rs 2,000) fine – a 20-fold increase in the earlier penalty that was seen as toothless.
The WHO on Sunday said it “applauded Beijing for its strong and determined leadership in protecting the health of its people by making public places smoke-free”.
There are, however, doubts about whether the campaign can, on this occasion, make a difference after previous attempts faltered on account of patchy implementation.
“The city’s law enforcement still needs to work out ways to implement the regulations to the letter and make smokers who defy the ban receive due punishment,” Xu Guihua, deputy director of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, told reporters.
One online survey published by the official Xinhua news agency on Sunday found that only 17 per cent of 22,392 surveyed believed the ban will be effective.
What is different this time around, officials told MAIL TODAY, is that in recent weeks they have succeeded in getting on board dozens of restaurants and public venues that were earlier reluctant to join in the campaign fearing a loss in business.