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Smoking ban stubs out official privilege

2014-01-01 09:42 Xinhua Web Editor: qindexing

For the sake of her unborn child, Zhang Qing, a civil servant in east China, is reluctant to go to work.

Her husband is trying hard to quit smoking, but her colleagues never stop lighting up in the office, exposing Zhang to secondhand smoke.

According to a circular from the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council, officials are not allowed to smoke in public areas. Zhang, now two months pregnant, sees light at the end of the "funnel".

"Smoking remains a relatively universal phenomenon and some officials smoke in public places, which has not only harms the environment and public health, but tarnished the image of Party and government," reads the circular.

As the world's largest cigarette producer and consumer, China has over 300 million smokers and at least 740 million nonsmokers whose health is frequently put at risk by secondhand smoke.

The circular told government officials to "take the lead" in adhering to the smoking ban and kicking the habit. Chinese people are accustomed to images of their government officials holding a cigarette -- usually an expensive one -- between their fingers.

Xie Chuntao, professor of the Party School of the Central Committee of CPC, said smoking, which may appear to be a private matter, can have unexpected effects when practiced publicly.

"If one of your leaders smokes, you have to smoke with him to avoid any awkwardness and one of the most common greetings among officials is to exchange cigarettes," Xie said.

Back in 2003, China signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which required a reduction in tobacco supply and consumption and a total smoking ban in public places by January of 2011.

The central government promised to ban smoking in public places in the 12th Five-Year plan (2011-2015). But experts are widely critical of the current effort, especially in indoor public places as no national law is yet in place.

China's health authorities and local governments have introduced guidelines banning smoking in hotels, restaurants and public transport since 2011, but smokers frequently chose to ignore the ban and punishment is seldom heard of.

An anti-smoking drive enforced and supported by high authorities must urge officials to set the example, said Fan Hesheng, vice director of the School of Sociology and Political Science at Anhui University.

Specialty cigarettes used to be a privilege of some government official and a frequent choice for bribery. The new ban strictly prohibits officials using public funds to buy cigarettes, another privilege which has bit the dust in addition to funerals, private members clubs, fireworks, greeting cards, banquets and mooncake, in a swarm of anticorruption policies.

Xie said late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping during the 1988 National People's Congress session took the advice of a member and put out a cigarette.

"Deng's action became a favorite tale for a long time and I expect more such positive examples," Xie said.

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