Tough habit to kick
The smoking ban would have a far-reaching influence on curbing the abuse of public funds to buy cigarettes, Yang noted.
Despite the new smoking ban, officials who are habitual smokers complain that it remains difficult for them to quit smoking in such a short time, as exchanging cigarettes among government officials has for a long time been considered standard practice.
In Central China's Hunan Province, some officials were seen smoking in the corridors during a break from a meeting, while in Henan Province, an anonymous official from the provincial emigration department was quoted by the Beijing Times as saying "the policy should not be implemented hastily."
On one occasion, an official in Hequ county, Shanxi Province, spent over 60,000 yuan ($9913) on public funds to buy over 150 cartons of expensive cigarettes to give officials who participated in a meeting, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Yang, who used to lead the Tobacco Control Office under CDC and currently teaches in Peking Union Medical College, has long worried about whether the authorities are truly committed to reducing tobacco consumption, given the immense pressure exerted by tobacco companies.
"But the circular can be regarded as a political commitment made by the Party and government. Such a vow on tobacco control is unprecedented," Yang said.
Li Tong, a county leader from Fuzhou, Fujian Province, said that the effect of the circular is already being felt. "It was a habit to exchange cigarettes before the meeting began. Before, the meeting room was full of smoke when officials gathered. But now, the top leaders in our county have taken the lead in putting out cigarettes before entering the meeting hall, and people followed."
The smoking ban on officials is closely connected with anti-waste campaign, as it represents the central government's resolution on combating corruption, Yang noted.
Starting from January 1, the local government in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, has banned smoking in primary and middle schools, Internet cafés, sports venues and some other public places. In Beijing, local authorities have vowed to ban indoor smoking by 2015.
Other local governments are also taking up the cause. No smoking signs can be seen almost everywhere in the conference hall in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, where the city's annual people's congress opened on Wednesday, the Shenyang Evening News reported.
Reportedly, leading officials from the Pudong New Area in Shanghai signed documents pledging to take the lead in banning cigarettes and have also organized a supervision team including over 20 citizens, mostly retired, to supervise the enforcement of the smoking ban. Team members are permitted to report any violation of the ban directly to the head of the Pudong New Area government.