Health ministry bans smoking in its building

10:19, May 11, 2010      

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Smoking will no longer be allowed inside the building of the Ministry of Health from May 31, making it the country's first central government department to ban smoking indoors.

A working group led by Health Minister Chen Zhu has been formed to strictly implement the ban inside the 19-story building, Yang Qing, a division director of the ministry, told a regular news briefing on Monday.

"The latest initiative is actually part of the goal announced previously to ban smoking indoors at health institutions and administrations nationwide by the end of 2011," Yang said.

A previous survey already found out that more than half of Chinese male doctors smoke.

Apart from educational measures like posters inside the building, those caught breaking the latest ban will be punished and violators might not get promoted, he said.

"That will work well toward the goal, within the medical sectors," said Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the anti-smoking advocacy group Thinktank.

Still, successfully implementing a nationwide smoking ban in public places by 2011 is slim, she said.

China has 350 million smokers and about 540 million non-smokers get exposed to second-hand smoke, official statistics showed.

Smoking-related diseases also kill at least 1 million people every year.

In response, China ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005 and joined global anti-smoking efforts.

Under the FCTC, all member countries are obliged to undertake a comprehensive ban on tobacco in public places by 2011.

To date, 17 member countries including France and Canada have fulfilled a 100 percent smoking ban at wide-ranging public venues, a WHO report showed.

"They all have laws prohibiting indoor smoking at public places and act accordingly and strictly," said Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's tobacco control office.

Due to concerns about tax revenues and the livelihood of tobacco farmers, China has yet to put in place a nationwide law or regulation on tobacco and smoking, analysts said.

Despite regional indoor smoking bans issued in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, smoking is largely tolerated at places like restaurants, bars and even meeting rooms because of poor implementation and lax supervision, Jiang said.

"Changing the social norm for effective smoking control goes beyond legislation," said Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the United States-based Emory Global Health Institute, which runs anti-smoking projects in China.

Over the past decades, many Americans have changed their perception of smoking as a cool and fashionable practice to one that is shameful, especially in public places, he said.

Source: China Daily
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