China consumes one-third of the world’s cigarettes. It also has more smokers than any other country on earth. And, according to the World Health Organization, tobacco has become the biggest killer in China; more than 3,000 people die each day from smoking-related illnesses.
In an effort to change these statistics, China mandated regulation of smoking in public places in May 2011, banning smoking in areas like bars, restaurants, and subways. The Global Times took a look at how efforts to implement a smoke-free environment have been fairing and, alarmingly, found that these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Turning to social scientists and health professionals to understand why progress has been slow, the Times learned that the lack of success is largely due to a “cigarette culture” and poor law enforcement.
“People are so ingrained with the habit of smoking. It has long been regarded as a very important part of social and business networking,” said Liang Liwen, a sociologist from Guangdong Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.
Some restaurants have taken specific steps to try to ban smoking, such as putting up non-smoking signs and training waiters and waitresses on how to politely ask people to put out their cigarettes. Yet, their establishments are not smoke-free. According to a survey released by the Green Beagle Environment Institute, most Beijing restaurants have failed to create a smoke-free environment.
Beyond old habits dying hard, lack of law enforcement also contributes to the issue. Law enforcement officials often don’t implement bans. And, this lack of enforcement matters at different levels.
“The success or failure in China depends largely on the government’s attitude toward tobacco control. Implementing a specialized law that bans smoking and intensifying enforcement are the strongest measures of support available,” Yang Gonghuan, a tobacco control expert with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), told the Global Times, adding that the landscape of tobacco control is not good.
This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some efforts to enforce the ban and reduce smoking, some of which the article explains here. But, there’s still a long way to go.