Today new legislation comes into force in China banning smoking in restaurants, theaters, public transport waiting rooms, hotels, and several other enclosed public places. Chinese health authorities want to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking. A significant proportion of the Chinese population is not aware of the health risks of smoking. Tobacco use is deeply ingrained in China.

The new ban does not cover offices. Employers will now have to warn their staff about the dangers of smoking, but they cannot stop them.

Cigarette vending machines will not be allowed to be placed in public places.

China has over 300 million regular smokers, estimated to make up one third of all smokers worldwide. A 2010 survey revealed that more than one quarter of all adults in China were not aware that smoking raises the risk of developing lung cancer, stroke and heart disease.

According to local media, most Chinese citizens who are non-smokers do not know that second-hand smoke is also a health danger. Experts are hoping that this new legislation and its subsequent improved awareness will lead to further legislation to protect people's health.

Some health groups criticize the new rule, saying it does not go far enough. For example, it does not specify what happens if somebody violates the ban - there is no mention of penalties. Without specific penalties, how will the rule be enforced, many wonder.

Some already-existing smoking rules are generally ignored by most of the population. Shanghai tried to impose smoking bans in public places in 2010 - most smokers puffed away regardless.

Smoking, which is said to be a major contributory factor in four of China's five leading causes of death, directly causes the premature death of at least 3,000 Chinese citizens each day, according to the World Health Organization.

The ban comes in response to pressure from WHO, which castigated China for not complying with a global anti-tobacco treaty. China's decision to implement this ban has been described by WHO as "groundbreaking".

A packet of 20 cigarettes can be as cheap as 46 cents (3 Yuan) in China. Smoking culture is so ingrained that even Olympic athletes have been seen in tobacco advertising campaigns. According to WHO, two-thirds of the country's nurses and doctors are regular smokers. The Ministry of Health recently admitted that banning smoking in its own offices was unenforceable.

Cigarette manufacturing is virtually a government-owned monopoly in China. The government receives sizeable revenues from tobacco taxes. Nearly one-tenth of its tax income comes from tobacco products.

According to China's public news agency Xinhua, the new rule is "likely to be ignored by smokers."



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