China Might Be About to Say So Long to Smoking in Public

One million people a year die from tobacco use in the Asian country; new regulations would make it tougher to light up.

A smoker in Shanghai. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Nov 27, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

China is the world’s largest cigarette producer—and it is home to 300 million smokers—but it looks like the Asian nation may be joining the ranks of countries that are cracking down on tobacco consumption. This week Chinese government officials floated the idea of curbing cigarette advertising, smoking on television, and event sponsorship by tobacco companies, and they plan to prohibit lighting up in public too.

A draft of the proposed cigarette regulations was published on Monday on the Chinese State Council website, reported Xinhua News Agency, the official government news outlet. Smoking is already prohibited in many public places in Beijing—including hotels and restaurants—but many people pull out their cigarettes anyway.

“The draft bans smoking in all kinds of indoor public places and outdoor space in kindergartens, schools, colleges, women and children’s hospitals, as well as in fitness venues. Smoking in outdoor space is only allowed in designated smoking areas,” reported Xinhua. Tobacco companies would no longer be able to use vending machines to sell cigarettes to minors, and “teachers and medical workers are not allowed to smoke in front of students or patients.”

Although smoking kills one million Chinese people every year, Stanford University anthropologist Matthew Kohrman told Martketplace that although seeing people smoking in schools and hospitals in China is quite common, the proposed regulations sidestep the real problem: the supply and production of cigarettes.

As has been the case with other governments around the world that have limited tobacco sales, advertising, and public smoking, China isn’t going to require its cigarette companies to reduce the amount of product they manufacture.

“Most people would think that cigarette production has gone down worldwide over the last two or three decades. In fact, cigarette production has tripled since the 1960s,” Korhman said. “And China has become the world’s cigarette superpower.”

Given how popular smoking is in China, a period of public comment (and pressure from the tobacco industry) could still kill the proposed regulations. Meanwhile, Xu Guihua of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control told Xinhua that the rules are needed, particularly for managers of restaurants and hotels that have to ask people to put out their cigarettes.

“After all, law enforcement teams can not cover all public places,” Xu said.