Beijing olympics is viewed as a right platform by Chinese health officials to fight against the deadly effects of smoking.
Despite ongoing attempts to catch up with much of the developed world, where tobacco use in public places is banned or increasingly frowned upon, in China the waft of cigarette smoke remains an ever-present fact of life.
AdvertisementChina boasts up to 360 million smokers, 26 percent of its population and a third of the global total, and the nation is dependent on the tobacco industry for huge tax revenues.
Offering a cigarette remains an ice-breaker at formal and informal social and business occasions and, until recently, refusing to take up such an offer was considered impolite.
Even top Chinese athletes such as Liu Xiang, world and Olympic champion in the 110m high hurdles, advertises for Chinese tobacco company Baishan, while some football and basketball professionals still enjoy a smoke at half-time.
But despite these factors the tide shows signs of turning, with people such as communications expert Ren Mengshan openly advocating the Olympics as "a good platform for the government to promote non-smoking and the benefits of good health."
Besides declaring the Beijing Olympics "smoke-free," organisers have also banned tobacco from public places where athletes and Olympic officials are likely to meet during the August Games.
The capital has further mandated that 70 percent of all hotel rooms be non-smoking and since October last year, has banned taxi drivers from smoking in their cars.
"We support and congratulate... the authorities here in Beijing for taking these very important steps," said Hans Troedsson, the China-based representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"It is very important that the Olympics have been declared smoke-free and a tobacco-free Olympics. It is sending a very important message not only here in China but to the rest of the world."
Last year, the WHO said the death toll from diseases associated with tobacco use was about one million a year in China, a figure that is expected to increase to 2.2 million per year by 2020 if smoking rates remain unchanged.
In addition to its recent efforts, since 1996 Beijing authorities have tried to ban smoking in public places such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, train and bus stations, libraries and museums.
Although their efforts have met with little success, there are glimmers of hope.
Beijing's first non-smoking eatery, the Meizhou Dongpo, opened in the capital in October last year daring to confront the long-held Chinese tradition of mixing tobacco with culinary delights.
"We thought a non-smoking restaurant would be a good thing to welcome the Olympics with, as catering itself is a healthy industry," said Guo Xiaodong, Meizhou Dongpo's deputy manager.
Tables in the Sichuan-style eatery are decorated with signs that read "no-smoking restaurant, a forest in the middle of the city," while sporting events are shown from flat-screen televisions hung from the walls.
"In the beginning, when customers came to the restaurant and suddenly realised this was a non-smoking restaurant, some chose to dine elsewhere and we lost customers," Guo said.
"However, after customers realised they still love the food and the environment is good for their health, they came to accept this. There are many people who wish to dine in a no-smoking environment."
For Tian Hua, a 34-year-old accountant dining with her friend, "all restaurants should be non-smoking."
"Meal time is not very long, why do people have to smoke? Sometimes, people at the next table keep smoking. It is annoying."
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