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More Cities Committed to Anti-smoking Campaign

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Ten more Chinese cities have agreed to implement smoking bans in line with World Health Organization recommendations days after health experts lamented the country's set-backs in tobacco control due to interference from the tobacco industry.

This brings the number of Chinese cities participating in the Tobacco Free Cities project, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to 17, project officials said Thursday.

China has the world's largest number of smokers and the culture of smoking is especially prevalent in small cities, towns and rural areas.

The new comers to the Gates Foundation project include cities from the relatively poor and ethnic minority-dominating regions such as Karamay in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Jeffrey Koplan, head of Emory Global Health Institute in the United States who serves as the project director, said the focus is to prevent women and youths from taking up smoking, reduce environment exposure to smoke, and provide support to smokers who want to quit.

China, with 350 million smokers, is the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco. Deaths caused by smoke-related illnesses are predicted to triple to 3.5 million by 2030, according to an experts' report released last week.

The report, titled "Tobacco Control and China's Future," blasted tobacco industry's interference at the policy-making stage for the lack of substantial progress on tobacco control in the past five years.

China ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003. The treaty took effect on Jan. 2006, requiring signatories to take recommended measures, including a complete ban on smoking in in-door workplaces and public places, to cut tobacco use.

China has yet to promulgate a national law on tobacco control. Legislation remains largely at local levels and faces challenges as well. A strict smoking-ban in the eastern city of Nanchang was diluted during deliberations by the legislature in December due to its controversy.

Under the Gates Foundation project, cities pledge to ban smoking in hospitals, schools, government offices, and even hotels and restaurants.

In the eastern city of Hangzhou, 30 hotels and restaurants will become completely smoke-free in two years. Owners of hotels violating the smoke ban will be fined up to 5,000 yuan while individual violators will face a 50 yuan fine, said Cao Chengjian, deputy head of Hangzhou municipal disease prevention and control center.

Another participator in the project, far western China's city Karamay in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has been banning smoking in public places such as offices, schools, hospitals and shopping malls since May 2008.

"The ban has won support from more than 95 percent of the citizens," said Wang Yong, the official in charge of the smoking ban.

(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2011)

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