We are writing this while choking on second-hand smoke at a Huaihai Lu cafe/eatery. Our choice, we know, but we had a meeting here and then decided to have lunch — and now we are having our neighbor’s Marlboro Lights for dessert. Anyway, a nice little midday reminder of why we prefer to work at home. But is relief on the way? According to the latest Access Asia Weekly Update, maybe so. (Keep in mind that the author of the Access Asia newsletter is a fervent supporter of smoker rights, who refers to pansies like Shanghaiist as “killjoys who think they are going to live forever.”):
Reliable sources (of which there are many in China, honest) tell us that the authorities are preparing to outlaw smoking in many public places sometime this year. This will probably be a phased approach with restaurants having to provide ‘no smoking’ tables first, and a gradual clamp down to follow. Why? Well, simple really: a range of “World Cities” (defined as?) including New York, London, Paris and, eeerr, Hong Kong and Dublin have all gone down the smoking ban route, and China wants nothing more than for Beijing and Shanghai to be seen as “World Cities”. If “World Cities” are banning smoking, then China must follow. It’s also relatively easy – much easier than say lowering toxic emissions or letting people CENSORED their government.
There have, of course, been some laws on smoking introduced over the years. Foreign companies usually ban smoking in the office, while quite a few years ago now, cigarette company ‘push girls’ were turfed out of the bars (ending the free fag for all those occasional smokers who never buy a pack) and stores have had to display signs telling youngsters they can’t buy cigs for some time now too, which means parents have to get up off the sofa to go and buy their own. With Hong Kong having brought in their ban, the wagons are circling ever closer. Ultimately, the rules may be observed more in the breach than the observance, but that is hardly important – it’s the statutes themselves that will be championed in the press.
If the government does decide to impose smoking bans, then there won’t be much the domestic tobacco industry can do, being still mostly state-owned. Of course, in the UK diminutive F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone donated £1 million to Blair and New Labour and the British government compliantly argued for a delay in banning tobacco advertising in F1. Who said a million quid would be very helpful right now in the Shanghai pension fund? Welcome to China’s new World Cities, and put out that fag!
A no-smoking Shanghai? We aren’t holding our breath (well, we are holding our breath right now, but that’s just because we’re a killjoy). Even if laws are put in place, we doubt they will be enforced — kind of like the law that says drivers need to stop at red lights (and yield to pedestrians) before making a right turn. (It’s really a law, we promise! Unless the English-language version of the China driving test has been edited to make foreigners feel better.) But even if they do manage to stamp out smoking in public places in Shanghai, nicotine addicts like Access Asia will always have Singapore:
Our social world is getting smaller – most of America, half of Europe soon and now Hong Kong bars and restaurants are all out-of-bounds, following the introduction of new anti-smoking legislation there recently.
However, Singapore provides a haven for us thanks to Chinese big spenders, though one vice may lead to another, and we look like becoming inveterate gamblers in order to have a puff. Singapore is set to introduce strong anti-smoking measures next summer, but two locations will be a smoker’s paradise – the two new casino mega-resorts scheduled to open in 2009. Apparently, the Singaporean authorities are worried that a blanket no smoking ban in the casinos will scare away Mainland Chinese gamblers – who are basically the key target market. So, for the price of a little Black Jack or roulette, we’ll be able to puff away in the Lion City in the company of our Shanghai friends or as long as our money and our luck holds out.