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Beijing Goes Softly on Enforcing Smoking Ban

Beijing health chiefs are insisting they will use education and persuasion to discourage illegal smoking in public places, rather than use spot fines to enforce a ban that was passed to clean up the city's image for the Olympic Games next month.

A city health official reiterated the softly-softly policy just a day after national health authorities announced that more than 100,000 Chinese die every year from exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke.

In May, the city banned smoking in public places, including sports, venues, government offices, transport stations, schools and hospitals, and recruited 100,000 inspectors to ensure Beijing the ban was observed during the Games.

The regulation gave the inspectors powers to fine errant smokers 10 yuan if they lit up illegally, but no fines had yet been issued, said Rao Yingsheng, deputy director of the Patriotic Hygiene and Sports Committee of the Beijing health bureau.

Rao said the bureau had yet to transfer those powers to the inspectors because officials believed a policy of persuasion and education was more feasible in stopping people smoking illegally.

"It is legally valid to impose a fine on violators, but in practice persuasion is a good alternative," said Rao.

"Most people will put the cigarette out when inspectors advise them to. Stubborn illegal smokers who won't listen at all will be asked to get out of the public places," Rao added.

Lighters are banned from Olympic venues, and smoking is entirely banned in the National Aquatics Center, or the "Water Cube".

Beijing banned smoking in taxis in October 2007 and extended to other public places in May. Restaurants, bars, karaoke venues and massage parlors are exempted, but these establishments are required to provide separate smoking and non-smoking areas.

More than 300 million people on the Chinese mainland smoke, about 25 percent of the population and one third of the world's smokers, the ministry revealed on Wednesday.

About 54 million Chinese suffered from "passive smoking" and 1 million people died of smoking-related diseases each year, said Mao Jian'an, spokesman of Health Ministry.

"Mass media should work on spreading awareness of tobacco control and helping the public learn about this important issue," Mao said.

The ministry has launched a nationwide campaign to encourage the mass media to publish more items that discourage smoking.

The government has pledged that all types of tobacco advertising and promotions will have to disappear by 2011, earlier reports said.

Smoking is the biggest contributing factor to cancer deaths in China, where 500 million are affected by second-hand smoke. The nation's cancer death rate has risen 80 percent in the past 30 years, Caijing Magazine reported on Wednesday.

China Daily also reported in early June that half of youths who do not smoke suffer from second-hand smoke either at home or public venues.

(Xinhua News Agency July 18, 2008)

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