Guangzhou Smoking Ban: Good Intentions but Uphill Battle

September 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

China has more smokers than the U.S. has people: 350 million.  Every year, about 1 million Chinese die from lung cancer or heart disease associated with smoking.   And if you’re a smoker there, you’re not likely to get a serious anti-smoking lecture from your doctor—this is a country where more than one half of all male doctors smoke.

So, when on September 1 the southern city of Guangzhou, in a run-up to the “no-smoking Asian games” to be held there in November, instituted a ban forbidding the smoking of cigarettes in “public locations including offices, conference rooms, halls and elevators” and restricting smoking in airports, shopping centers, and restaurants seating over 75 to designated areas only, it was a very good thing.

But if this ban is to be successful it is going to need enforcement.  And, so far, the Guangzhou City authorities have been silent about which agency or bureau is responsible for enforcement

People now are encouraged to report violators by calling a hotline number.  Which is precisely what a reporter from the Guangzhou Daily did.  But after an half hour wait, no “enforcer” had shown up on the scene, and the violator had long left it.

Let’s suppose that the violator had been “caught” in the act.  Well, he’d have been fined.  But 50 rmb ($7.36), roughly the cost of 4 to 5 packs of Chinese cigarettes, is simply not a deterrent. This is especially true in Guangzhou, one of China’s wealthiest cities, where the average annual income this year is more than $10,000.   A $7 fine with no additional consequences isn’t going to do much to modify addictive behavior.

No enforcement and no deterrent do not bode well for the success of the ban.  And finally, lest you’ve forgotten, China is a place where in May of 2009 the government in Gong’an county in Hubei Province in central China issued an order to all civil servants and school teachers requiring them to smoke at least 230,000 packs (or 4 and a half million cigarettes) of the locally-made brand of cigarettes each year.  Individuals who did not consume their fair share or smoked other brands were to be fined or even fired. “The regulation will boost the local economy via cigarette tax,” a member of the Gong’an cigarette market supervision team proclaimed (Global Times, May 4, 2009).

Cartton from Gloabl Times article "Government pro-smoking campaign sparks controversy (5/4/2009)

Cartoon from Global Times article, "Government pro-smoking campaign sparks controversy" (5/4/2009)

The Guangzhou ban has its work cut out for it.

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§ 2 Responses to Guangzhou Smoking Ban: Good Intentions but Uphill Battle

  • Anonymous says:

    The story about the requirement in Gong’an county, Hubei, is remarkable. Was there no response from the provincial or central government?

    • By the middle of June, the outcry had become sufficiently strong that Gong’an county officials themselves “rescinded” the order, according to Chinese newspapers. To my knowledge, neither the provincial or central government ever commented on the issue.

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