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Smoking Ban Expands in Beijing

Beijing's broadened ban on smoking in public places took effect on Thursday, adding force to the effort to hold a smoke-free Olympics.

The new rules extend existing anti-smoking regulations to more places, including fitness centers, cultural relic sites, offices, meeting rooms, dining halls, toilets and lifts.

Restaurants, Internet cafes, parks, and waiting halls at airports, railway stations and coach stations are required to set up smoking areas.

Hotels will have to offer smoke-free rooms or floors, but the regulations do not specify a proportion.

However, some restaurant owners have complained that it would be difficult to have a separate smoking room as required by the new regulations.

"We plan to issue specific rules to solve this problem as soon as possible," Rao Yingsheng, vice director of the Beijing Committee for Patriotic Public Health Campaign, was quoted by the Beijing News as saying on Thursday.

He said small restaurants without a separate room should set aside at least 70 percent of their area for non-smokers. He also said customers and restaurant owners would be asked for their thoughts on the new rule.

Local authorities dispatched about 100,000 inspectors to make sure the ban was being enforced Thursday.

Everyone has the right to dissuade people from smoking in public places, Liu Zejun, who works for the Beijing committee, said.

"Citizens are encouraged to expose those who refuse to obey the rule by calling the free telephone line 12320," Liu said.

People caught smoking in forbidden areas will be fined 10 yuan (US$1.40), while enterprises and institutions that violate the ban will face fines of between 1,000 yuan and 5,000 yuan.

Smoking was forbidden in hospitals, kindergartens, schools, museums, sports venues and other places before the new regulations took effect.

From October 1 last year, the city also banned smoking in its 66,000 cabs, and imposed fines of 100 yuan to 200 yuan on drivers caught smoking in taxis.

China has pledged a cigarette-free, green Olympics. This year's event will be the first non-smoking Olympic Games since the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), of which China is a signatory, went into effect in 2005.

About 350 million people in China, or 26 percent of its population, smoke, statistics from the Ministry of Health show. That represents a third of the world's smoking population. About one million people die from smoking-related diseases in the country each year.

(Xinhua News Agency May 2, 2008)

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