China Smoking Ban May Have Little Effect
China’s ban on smoking in public places will take effect this Sunday, May 1st. Expectations should not be set too high, though. Enforcement and compliance with the new law is predicted to be weak. From the Los Angeles Times:
The current ban was mandated by the State Council, China’s top administrative body, in response to a World Health Organization treaty Beijing signed in 2006 pledging to enact nationwide tobacco-control legislation within five years. China already has missed the deadline by almost five months.
The law mandates a penalty of 30,000 yuan, or about $4,600, for owners of establishments that do not comply, but it is still unclear who will enforce the ban and what actions will trigger such a steep fine.
“I would be very surprised if it were enforced from May 1,” said Sarah England, a technical officer at the World Health Organization. “The law will need to be interpreted by the local and municipal authorities before it has a real impact.”
She also noted the lack of a nationwide public education campaign similar to those in the West, so “only 23% of adults believe smoking causes cancer or other health problems.”
The ultimate hurdle to enforcing a smoking ban might be the government itself, which has a direct stake in the tobacco industry.
China National Tobacco Corp. is a state-owned cigarette monopoly and the world’s largest tobacco company. In 2009, more than 7.5% of government revenue, or $77.3 billion, came from taxes and profits related to tobacco, according to the China Daily.
Smoking is a big problem in China. The World Health Organization estimates that if no action is taken, up to 3.5 million Chinese smokers may die by 2030. From Xinhua:
The health consequences of the tobacco epidemic are very serious in China and tobacco smoking has become the top killer of the Chinese population, said the report titled “Tobacco Control and China’s Future”.
China has witnessed an increasing number of tobacco-related deaths since 2000. There were 1.2 million tobacco-related deaths in 2005, and if indeed 3.5 million people die of tobacco-related illnesses in 2030, this will likely account for 43.75 percent of all tobacco-attributable deaths in the world.
This is higher than the previous estimate of 3 million deaths per year by 2050, showing the smoking epidemic is worsening in China, said Sarah England, an official of the China office of the World Health Organization (WHO), in an interview with Xinhua.
The report, as a joint assessment done by a group of Chinese and foreign health experts and economists, was issued at a time marking the 5th year since the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) entered into force in China.