Controversy clouds debate on toughest smoking regulation
Updated: 2010-12-23 07:33
By Xu Lingui and Shen Yang (China Daily)
NANCHANG - Lawmakers in an East China city are close to voting on the country's toughest law to ban smoking in offices, restaurants, bars and all indoor public places, officials said on Wednesday, months after the draft was shelved because it proved too controversial.
The regulation on minimizing the risks posed by second-hand smoke, if passed by the legislature of Nanchang city on Friday, will be the strictest of its kind in a country with the world's largest number of smokers and a deep-rooted smoking culture.
"We plan to resume deliberating and, hopefully, pass the bill on Friday," said Xu Yongli, an official with the People's Congress of Nanchang, Jiangxi province.
The draft regulation proposes a blanket ban on smoking in 11 categories of public places, including offices, schools, medical facilities, public transport, malls, sports venues and Internet cafes.
The ban will be extended to hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, beauty salons, mahjong houses and other entertainment venues from Jan 1, 2013. Farmers' markets are also included.
Owners or managers of indoor venues will be fined up to 5,000 yuan ($758) if their premises are in violation of the ban, while individuals who light up in smoke-free areas face a fine of 50 yuan.
The bill came up against vigorous opposition in the city legislature during its first reading in July, with claims that it set "unrealistic" goals for a second-tier city and would be difficult to enforce, said Chen Tianpeng, deputy director of Nanchang health bureau and a key promoter of the bill.
"This kind of comprehensive ban is unprecedented on the Chinese mainland," said Huang Jinrong, a Beijing-based lawyer.
China had no comprehensive national-level tobacco control law, he said. It partially banned smoking in public venues, on public transport and in government offices primarily through local legislation. This year the ministries of health and education imposed comprehensive smoking bans in hospitals and schools.
Health experts argue that "smoke free" means no smoking at all anywhere inside, and outdoor smoking only in designated smoking areas. A partial ban on smoking indoors, such as by setting up a "smoking area", is not effective in protecting non-smokers because potentially harmful particles are emitted by a burning cigarette.
But like other smoking bans, Nanchang's legislation may face daunting challenges in its enforcement, Chen Tianpeng said.
The draft lists a dozen government agencies to be responsible for policing the proposed law and lawmakers worried the different agencies might not enforce the law consistently, though a unified law enforcement team is impossible, he said.
Hotel managers also expressed frustration. Yang Liangyue, general manager of the Chundu Commercial Hotel, said: "How can I know if occupants are smoking in rooms?"
Tao Chunsheng, a local police officer, said gathering evidence of violations would be difficult, as smokers were likely to finish their cigarettes before the police could arrive.
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