China to expand smoking bans in 7 major cities

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BEIJING (AP) — Health advocates and Chinese officials are campaigning to expand and enforce smoking bans in seven major cities in China, the latest sign that awareness of the risks of smoking are rising in the world’s largest tobacco-consuming nation.

The campaign organized by the government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention seeks to enforce a ban on indoor smoking in public places and close loopholes in the law.

Cities targeted include some of China’s biggest commercial centers — such as Tianjin on the northern coast and the mega-city of Chongqing in the south — where smoking and breathing in secondhand smoke are just two of the threats facing residents confronted with heavy traffic, industrial waste, and polluted air and water.

China accounts for more than one-quarter of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers, with 2 trillion cigarettes sold in the country every year. About 60 percent of Chinese men smoke, and offering cigarettes remains an important part of gatherings and social interaction.

The project “would help save millions of lives through lowering tobacco consumption and reducing secondhand smoking,” said Sinead Jones of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, which is co-sponsoring the campaign.

Jones, the union’s director of tobacco control, was quoted in the official China Daily newspaper on Monday. Union officers could not immediately be reached for comment, and calls to the disease control center rang unanswered.

China has nominally banned smoking in public places indoors, but the restrictions are poorly enforced and undermined by official exceptions and government policies that sometimes even encourage tobacco use.

A rural county in central Hubei province last year sparked a public outcry after it proposed a rule urging its officials to smoke more than 230,000 packs of locally produced cigarettes a year to boost tax revenues.

The government said the campaign was an attempt to crack down on fake cigarettes and illegal cigarette smuggling, but called it off in the face of public criticism.