China is making its biggest effort to curb smoking yet by banning officials from lighting up in public, an edict that came down from the highest levels in Beijing.
Until Sunday’s notice from the Chinese State Council and the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, efforts to curb smoking in public places were largely limited to city and other local-level measures.
The Chinese Ministry of Health pushed out guidelines banning smoking in venues such as hotels and restaurants in 2011, but these were criticized as having no clear punishments or details on how such bans would be enforced.
The new rules, which antitobacco campaigners hope will help bring about a nationwide law banning smoking in public places, call on officials to lead by example by stubbing out their cigarettes.
Officials are not allowed to smoke in schools, hospitals, sports venues, on public transport or any other places where smoking is banned, or to smoke or offer cigarettes while performing official duties, Xinhua news agency said.
They also cannot use public funds to buy cigarettes and tobacco products cannot be sold nor adverts displayed within party or government offices.
“Smoking remains a relatively universal phenomenon in public venues. Some officials smoke in public places, which has not only jeopardized the environment and public health, but tarnished the image of party and government offices and leaders and has a negative influence,” the circular read, according to Xinhua.
“This is likely a major breakthrough. For the first time, very high-level attention and support is being given to anti-tobacco efforts,” said Ray Yip, head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s China program.
The foundation has been working on antismoking campaigns in the country of 1.35 billion, which has the world’s largest number of smokers at more than 300 million.
Experts say huge revenues from the state-owned tobacco monopoly have hindered antismoking measures.
Smoking, which has been linked to an average 1.4 million annual deaths in China in recent years, is one of the nation’s greatest health threats, government data show.