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Fresh air returns after smoking ban

2014-01-11 08:33 Xinhua Web Editor: Wang Fan

Fresh air made a welcome return to ongoing annual meetings of local legislatures and political advisory bodies across China thanks to a government smoking ban.

Officials attending meetings are banned from smoking in pubic places.

Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province, Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province and Shinan District, Qingdao City of east China's Shandong Province have all banned smoking at their plenums.

According to a circular on Dec. 29, from the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council, officials are not allowed to smoke in public areas, including schools, hospitals, sports venues, on public transport vehicles, among other venues.

The circular told government officials to "take the lead" in adhering to the 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.

Not a single ashtray has been seen in the meeting rooms and hotels where representatives are staying in Nanchang during the plenums, which are taking place from Jan. 8 to 12.

A smoking ban notice was put into their file packets. It reads "the central government's relevant provisions on tobacco control will be strictly implemented."

In Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, there have been fewer cigarette butts scattered on the floor this year, said Xia Lihua, a cleaner at a hotel where delegates are staying.

About 20 smoking-ban posters are being displayed in the meeting rooms, lobbies, corridors and rest areas to remind delegates, many of them local officials, not to light up, said Wu Xincai, an official with the Standing Committee of the Nanchang Municipal People's Congress, the city's legislature.

He Xiaoming, a smoker and a member of the Nanchang Municipal People's Political Consultative Conference, the city's political advisory body, did not take any cigarettes to the meeting to support the ban.

Officials taking the lead will significantly improve the effectiveness of the smoking ban, he said.

Fu Wenjing, a female member of city's political advisory body, is delighted with the change.

"Everyone is more refreshed as the air in the meeting rooms is fresher," she said.

As smoking cessation takes time, it is inevitable there will be some who want to smoke, said Wu.

"Our staff will first advise them not to. If persuasion is not effective, they will lead them to an outdoor area," he said.

China is the world's largest cigarette producer and consumer. The number of smokers exceeds 300 million, with at least 740 million nonsmokers regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.

In 2003, China signed the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and it became effective in January 2006. The framework requires a reduction in tobacco supply as well as consumption. The 12th Five-Year plan (2011-2015) promised to ban smoking in public places.

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

Some are critical of the government's efforts, which lags far behind the FCTC standard. Also, there is no national law banning smoking in indoor public places.

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