China is to issue a new anti-smoking regulation by the end of the year, a senior official with the National Health and Family Planning Commission said yesterday.
The regulation, which will control smoking in public nationwide, is undergoing the legislative process, Mao Qun'an, head of the commission's publicity department, told a press conference at the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion in Shanghai.
"Strictly controlling smoking in public places in a legal way is a promotion for health," Mao said. "That smoking harms health has become a global consensus."
According to a draft, smoking will be prohibited at all indoor public venues, workplaces and public transport, as well as outdoor areas that include primary schools, kindergartens, children's training institutes, historic sites, children's hospitals and stadiums. Violations by individuals will incur fines of up to 500 yuan (US$73), while companies that breach the rule face fines up to 30,000 yuan and the loss of their business license.
Mao said almost 20 Chinese cities had already drawn up no-smoking rules, including Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou.
He said the biggest obstacle to the regulation, first published as a draft in 2014, had been the public's lack of awareness about the harm smoking causes.
The Chinese Association on Tobacco Control estimates there are some 316 million smokers in the country, with about 1.5 million Chinese dying every year from tobacco-related diseases.
Stamping out smoking in China has always been difficult, with the practice traditionally considered sociable and a symbol of friendship. In addition, compared to many Western countries, cigarettes are relatively cheap and widely available.
"The Chinese government will enhance publicity on the harm of tobacco, make legislation and carry out tax and price reforms on tobacco products to meet the requirements of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control," Mao said.
WHO chief Margaret Chan hailed China's ever-strengthening anti-tobacco efforts, saying she expects to see more progress in the right direction.
"China has done well" in tightening tobacco control, the WHO director-general said.
Tobacco kills 6 million people every year, she said, quoting WHO figures. "These are avoidable deaths. It's a tragedy that we don't prevent smoking from causing death and devastation on health."
She said China "is moving at the right direction, doing well, but needs to do more."
Chan encouraged the more than 100 mayors attending the conference to introduce regulatory or fiscal measures, such as increased taxes, a ban on tobacco adverts on television and in print media, and the end of tobacco sponsorship of sports events.
She lauded the Chinese leadership's call for full protection of the people's health, which stressed that public health should be given priority in the country's development strategy.
Beijing, home to more than 4 million smokers, rolled out what has been deemed the "strictest smoking ban in history" on June 1, 2015, prohibiting smoking in indoor public places, workplaces and on public transport.
This month, Shanghai also amended its regulations to ban smoking in public indoor and outdoor areas. The new rules come into effect in March next year.
"We are delighted with the adoption of this new law," Dr Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO's representative in China, said yesterday. "Shanghai will be protecting non-smokers from the deadly harm of second-hand smoke."