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Palace gets tough on smoking

By Xie Wenting (Global Times)

15:46, May 20, 2013

The Palace Museum has for the first time ruled that both employees and visitors will be punished for smoking onsite from Saturday, an official with the museum told the Global Times.

Both health and cultural heritage experts welcomed the ban, and said they hope the Forbidden City will enforce the rule.

A media officer from the museum, who asked for anonymity, said that in the past, only areas that were open to tourists had a ban on smoking.

"Staff could smoke in offices. Now no one is allowed to smoke in the whole museum area. This is to reduce the potential fire hazard which is the most pressing problem the museum faces," she said.

According to the officer, if an employee is found smoking, all the people in his group will be deprived of their yearly "fire bonus," given for fire prevention actions, although she would not say how much this is.

"We can't give fines to tourists so we just discourage them from smoking, but we'll send them to the police if they disobey," said the official.

She told the Global Times that tourists are hard to manage because even though no-smoking signs are posted in the museum, some people still secretly smoke.

Zeng Yizhi, from the International Committee of Monuments and Sites in China, said that it is necessary to ban smoking in the entire complex, because the museum has many wooden structures and precious cultural relics like silk cloth and papers, which can catch fire easily.

"The museum should also control the numbers of tourists every day; it's troublesome to supervise too many people," said Zeng.

Lawyer Liu Ziruo told the Global Times that because the smoking tourists do not violate any law, even the police do not have the right to punish them.

Although Beijing instituted a ban on smoking in historic sites in 2008, and banned smoking in all public places in 2011, neither ban is well-enforced, said Yang Jie from the tobacco control center of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The ban on smoking in the Palace Museum is good for health. Smoking in public areas, which also affects passive smokers, causes lung cancer and heart disease," said Yang.

Only officers from Beijing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee are able to levy fines on smokers who flout the ban, which can be up to 200 yuan ($32.54). Public places, including tourist sites and restaurants, could be fined from 5,000 to 30,000 yuan if people are caught smoking inside, said Yang.

A fire broke out in a museum watchtower on the evening of October 17, 2008. While the tower sustained some damage, firefighters arrived in time to extinguish the blaze, the website reported. The cause was not reported.

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