(ECNS) -- Health experts are concerned that the latest draft version of a regulation on controlling cigarette smoking in public places will leave a loophole for smokers and make it hard to carry out a ban nationwide, Beijing News reported.
The previous draft regulation by China's State Council, the cabinet, called for a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places, workplaces and indoor areas.
But the new version changed "comprehensive ban" to "selective ban", according to Wang Longde, who participated in the amendment as a member of the standing committee of the National People's Congress.
The new regulation also contains articles that say, "restaurants, bars, cafés, teahouses, KTVs and other entertainment venues can establish a smoking zone."
China is in the final stage of introducing a long-awaited comprehensive national smoke-free law and the change in wording is "very disappointing" and "a serious setback," Wang added.
Bernhard Schwartländer, Word Health Organization's representative in China, said the country is in a critical stage in efforts to protect innocent people from exposure to second-hand smoking, adding "it is certainly in need of a 100 percent smoke-free national law."
Schwartländer said global experience proves that loopholes and exceptions in no-smoking laws only make enforcement more challenging.
His worries are shared by Xiong Jingfan, a section chief at Shenzhen's chronic diseases center. Xiong said Shenzhen's allowance of smoking at designated places in bars and other venues made the anti-smoking effort much less effective.
Wang added that the new draft also deleted requirements for tobacco companies, such as graphic health warnings on packaging and a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
Schwartländer said the three core objections raised by the tobacco industry – potential effects on the economy, difficult implementation of a rigid law and the precedent of smoking zones in other countries -- are not sufficient. He called it "disappointing and depressing" that tobacco firms hinder a smoke-free law for public places.
Xiong Huang, a deputy bureau chief at National Health and Family Planning Commission, said current differences in drafts of the law "are big," with a main contention the scope of comprehensive smoking control.
The commission will coordinate closely with other departments to make the regulation meet obligations set by the WHO as closely as possible, it was added.