China launched a ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other indoor public spaces last Sunday, but few expect it to have much of an impact.
China is known as a tobacco-hooked country, with more than 300 million smokers.
The nationwide prohibition is designed to bring China more in line with health regulations in developed countries, but it faces a tough test in a nation where tobacco is deeply ingrained in the culture.
The ministry of health guidelines say smoking will be banned in “indoor public spaces” and that cigarette vending machines cannot be located in public places.
However, state press reports have said offices and factories will not be covered by the ban, and it remains unclear whether it will be adequately enforced in bars, restaurants, and public transport.
Lighting up in elevators, buses or even in hospital waiting rooms is routine in China, highlighting the lack of public awareness about the health risks of smoking.
Many health experts have warned that China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco, faces a ticking health time bomb unless it curbs smoking, and the ban marks a significant move for the Chinese government.
“We can inform them about the regulation but if they insist on smoking we can’t do anything,” Tian Rongrong, a waitress at a small restaurant, said.
But she believes Chinese people will gradually get used to the new rule.
“I think Chinese people will slowly change their way of thinking. More and more customers ask for no-smoking areas,” she said.
Tobacco kills more than a million people each year in China, where some brands can be purchased for as little as three yuan (B13). Chinese and foreign experts say the number of smoking deaths could triple by 2030.
Experts point to the state monopoly on the tobacco industry, which accounts for nearly a tenth of national tax revenue, as one of the biggest obstacles to anti-smoking efforts.
Beijing dragged its feet in adopting the ban - it takes effect four months after the expiration of a deadline set by the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which China signed five years ago.
So far, there has been no major nationwide public awareness campaign to promote the ban and enforcement issues and penalties also are not clearly spelled out in the regulations.