BEIJING, Jan. 17 -- Non-smokers at the current provincial "two sessions" will not be bothered by cigarette smoke, following a nationwide ban on officials smoking in public.
There are no ashtrays at venues; eye catching "no smoking" signs adorn walls and pillars; smokers huddle together in designate smoking areas to light up.
"No one dares to smoke at the venue. It's very different to the past, when even the host of group discussions puffed non-stop during meetings," Cheng Liu'en, a Beijing political advisor, said at the second session of the 12th Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the city's political advisory body.
From January, all Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have convened or will convene annual sessions of their legislatures and political advisory bodies, the first since a circular in December required all officials to take the lead by not smoking in public.
Tobacco has been a burning issue at both provincial and national political meetings. China signed the WHO convention on tobacco control in 2003, and promised a ban on smoking in all indoor public spaces by 2011 but implementation has been poor.
At the venues of the two sessions in Beijing, deputies and political advisors could easily be spotted in doorways and corridors, smoking and chatting. On Thursday, Xinhua reporters saw workers smoking at the press center for the legislative session of Beijing.
"With the most smokers in the world, banning smoking in public areas was never going to be easy in China," said Yang Gonghuan, former director of tobacco control at the Chinese center for disease control and prevention.
China has more than 300 million smokers who regularly expose the 740 million non-smokers to second-hand smoke.
Yang advised organizers set up outdoor smoking areas. "An designated outdoor smoking place assures smokers' rights without affecting health of non-smokers," she said.
Apart from the smoking ban, the provincial "two sessions" have adopted a frugal, people-friendly style following national campaigns against extravagance and formalism.
Floral displays, red carpets and banners were nowhere to be seen and participants have to share paper copies of documents or find them online, to cut waste.
Beijing political advisors are limited to seven minute speeches, cutting out all the meaningless, fawning greetings and empty words. The Beijing government organized group interactions on Wednesday, with face-to-face meetings between officials, deputies and advisors. A live Internet broadcast was arranged of the plenary meeting of the second session of the Beijing municipal committee of the CPPCC.
Xu Yaotong of the Chinese Academy of Governance believes the simple style combined with transparent, public sessions will help plug the gap between politicos and ordinary people. He expects the style to be widely imitated in other provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.
Late in 2012, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China offered explicit guidance on eight aspects of official work style, including reducing the number and length of meetings, condensing papers, less interruption to traffic by motorcades and thrift.
Xu said the requirements, after more than a year in practice, had been supplemented by detailed rules and regulations, stipulating conditions for receptions, spending and car use, revealing the resolution of the top leadership to promote frugality and curb corruption.
"The rules and regulations governing the ordinary conduct of officials, should be enforced in the long term to prevent officials from returning to their old habits," he said.