China Expands Effort to Make Olympics Smoke-Free

Beijing is pledging a tobacco-free Olympics, and as part of that promise, the city will expand its existing smoking ban in certain public areas Thursday. But past government smoking bans have been widely ignored.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We have 100 days to go before the Chinese Olympics, and Beijing is counting every day. You would too if you'd promised to make over your whole city in time. Among other things, officials promised that the games will be tobacco free. Tomorrow, Beijing expands its bans on smoking in certain public spaces, but a total ban is a stretch in a country that is the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: At a recent press conference, government officials admitted that the new rules were a temporary solution and that it was not realistic to stamp out smoking in many public places. Li Lingyan is deputy director of Beijing's Legal Affairs office.

Ms. LI LINGYAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: It's not yet possible to completely ban smoking in places such as restaurants and cyber cafes, she says. This goes for parks, amusement parks, and bus and train stations as well.

Beijing restaurateurs recently complained that an outright ban would hurt their business. The government relented, and the new rules simply require restaurants to designate non-smoking seats.

Michael Ma(ph) is the assistant general manager of a 460-seat restaurant in Beijing's Ritan Park. He says two-thirds of the seats are reserved for smokers.

Mr. MICHAEL MAW: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: We're planning to gradually expand our non-smoking area, he says, but it would be difficult to entirely ban smoking from the restaurants in one go. After all, everyone knows the old Chinese saying: A smoke after a meal makes you feel like an immortal.

They may feel immortal, but in fact a million Chinese die each year from smoking, according to the National Health Ministry. China has about 350 million smokers and 540 million passive smokers who inhale second-hand smoke.

But the administration of President Hu Jintao is trying to make tobacco control an important part of its public health policy. Two years ago, China signed an international treaty called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. That gives China until 2011 to ban smoking outright in all public areas and on all public transportation.

Sun Xianli is deputy director of Beijing's Patriotic Health Campaign Committee, which is in charge of enforcing the ban locally. He notes that this is the first Olympics to be held since the convention came into affect.

Mr. SUN XIANLI (Patriotic Health Campaign Committee): (Through translator) A completely tobacco-free Olympics includes rejecting tobacco advertising and sponsorship from tobacco companies, and more importantly it means a smoke-free environment in competition areas during the Olympic Games.

KUHN: Sun says Beijing will deploy tobacco inspectors in Olympic venues to enforce the rules. He said the inspectors will try to set a good example for others.

Mr. XIANLI: (Through translator) In principle the inspectors should not be smoking, and they should at least abide by the regulations themselves and not smoke in places that ban smoking.

KUHN: Sun says the government will also have to beef up its penalties for violating the rules. The current fine is less than $1.50, which is the equivalent of about three packs of cigarettes here.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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