Beijing’s new stricter smoking ban went into effect yesterday, and this time around authorities are eager to show that they are for real about snuffing out smoking in public places. A popular hot pot chain restaurant has become the first establishment to receive an official warning and a public shaming for violating the ban.
Beijing sent forth 1,000 inspectors into the city streets yesterday, to sniff about for evidence of anyone sneaking an illegal smoke. The “health police officers” have been specially trained by the Beijing Health Inspection and Supervision Bureau, so obviously not even the tiniest trace of cigarette ash could escape their attention.
According to China.org, at a Chaoyang district location of the large Haidilao restaurant chain, inspectors uncovered cigarette butts in the men’s room. Even worse, they discovered that the venue’s no-smoking posters failed to publicize Beijing’s smoking hotline. For shame! Diners were left with no other resource than to signal their disapproval through hand gestures.
Inspectors say they will visit again in two days, if the restaurant is still not in compliance, the owner will face a fine of up to 10,000 yuan. That’s tough, but fair. Wang Bin, the owner of the hot pot restaurant, said they will comply with the regulations.
A Haidilao restaurant worker confirmed the incident to NBC News and added that the restaurant has since changed its evil ways. “We now observe the three no’s — no ashtrays, no cigarette lighters, no matches,” she said.
China’s “toughest anti-smoking law ever” prohibits smoking in all indoor public places, including offices, shops, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and airports. Lighting up in certain outdoor spaces, like public parks, outdoor stadiums, school grounds and tourist sites will also result in fines.
Fines for violating the smoking ban have been raised from a mere 10 yuan to 200 yuan. Violators will also be publicly shamed by having their names listed on a public, government website. Business owners will also be expected to see that the new regulations are observed, and not doing so can result in hefty fines and public ridicule.
Most observers seem to think that the Beijing government will run into some problems when it comes to actually implementing the new law. The city has had smoking bans in place since the 1990s and stepped up the campaign prior to the 2008 Olympics, but those efforts were consistently poorly observed and even more poorly enforced.
The ban was put into place to halt a looming health crisis by cleaning the city’s notoriously filthy air of dangerous cigarette smoke. Beijing’s estimated four million smokers (one-fifth of the city’s population) burn through 14.6 million cigarettes a day on average, according to a study conducted last year by the Beijing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee, which also found that secondhand smoke was likely inhaled by 90 percent of people who visited bars and clubs, 65 percent of diners in restaurants and 40 percent of people in their own homes.
As a recent World Health Organization (WHO) study shows, the air in a smoke-filled room is actually even more dangerous to breathe than normally toxic Beijing air.
According to the WHO, China has some 300 million smokers and smoking contributes directly to a million deaths a year, while secondhand smoke helps to cause an extra 100,000 deaths a year. The country is the world’s leading tobacco producer and consumer. With these kind of numbers, some observers see this new ban as a test case for a future ban nationwide. Just last month, Chinese smokers saw the country’s tobacco tax raise from 5% to 11%. Though cigarettes remain very affordable.
In 2010, Shanghai passed its own notable measure to curb smoking in public spaces. After the ban went into effect, Shanghai smokers must have been on their best behavior, because three months later just one business had been punished for violating the tobacco control law. We’ll have to wait and see how well Beijing smokers behave.
by Alex Linder
[Images via China.org & China News]