A ban on smoking in most public places in China goes into effect Sunday, a move that health experts say will help raise awareness of the dangers of smoking in a country where tobacco use is deeply ingrained.
There is a lack of public awareness of the health risks of smoking in China. The World Health Organization says seven out of ten non-smoking adults in the East Asian nation are exposed to second-hand smoke each week. Smokers light up in elevators and offices, and even in hospital waiting rooms.
Starting Sunday, though, the country’s estimated 300 million smokers will no longer be allowed to puff their cigarettes in what the Chinese government is calling "enclosed public places." These include hotels, restaurants, theaters and public transport waiting rooms. The ban does not cover offices or factories.
Hong Kong University School of Public Health Director Tai Hing Lam says the ban will be effective in informing the public about the dangers of smoking.
"With this new legislation, this will promote awareness, and that is a major step," said Lam.
He says non-smoking Chinese, who make up the majority of the population, should understand that second-hand smoke is harmful to their health. He hopes the new ban will help encourage them to ask for more smoke free places.
"Non smokers at the moment are too passive, let us put it that way, because they’re so used to being exposed," he said. "So, they do not realize that they have the right to demand it [smoke free places]. Now, the law actually empowers them."
The new regulation does not specify what the penalties should be for people who violate the ban.
Therefore, enforcement is expected to be difficult, which is a point that both supporters and opponents of the smoking ban agree on.
A 28-year-old lawyer, Mr. Zhu, supports the idea of more smoke free places in China, but says he does not think the ban will work.
He says he thinks Chinese people would find a way to avoid paying a fine, even if there were a definite fine. And he points out that there are already rules prohibiting smoking in public places in China that are ignored.
He says he thinks the answer is education, and education at a young age.
Raquel, 24, who works in a bar, says the ban is trying to change basic habits by imposing rules from above.
She says persuading people to quit smoking will take education and will take time. She adds that imposing rules from the top is not reliable and not democratic.
The new ban comes more than four months after a deadline imposed by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. China signed the agreement five years ago.
WHO data show more than 3,000 people die every day in China due to smoking, which contributes to four of the country’s five leading causes of death