The long awaited smoking ban in China will finally come into force on May. According to WHO, China counts more than 300 million smokers and nearly 1.2 million Chinese people die from smoking-related diseases each year.
But even as the May 1 start date approaches, authorities have not yet released any penalty or enforcement details, and officials are admitting it could be decades before people actually stop lighting up in public.
AdvertisementThe health ministry, which first announced the measure last year, said earlier this week that "operators of public venues must put up striking warnings and notices about the smoking ban".
In a statement, it added the ban would cover parks, hotels, theatres, museums and restaurants, but not offices. Tobacco will also no longer be sold in vending machines.
Beijing had previously committed itself to introducing the ban by January 9 this year when it signed the World Trade Organization (WTO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control five years ago.
But it missed the deadline due to a lack of state-level legislation, ineffective administration, low-priced cigarettes and deep-rooted tobacco culture, the official Xinhua news agency reported in January.
Smoking is deeply ingrained in Chinese society, with the offering of a cigarette a common gesture of greeting. Even health professionals smoke, with more than half of male doctors in the country lighting up.
While welcoming the ban, many experts have expressed doubt that it will succeed in the short term.
Wu Yiqun, deputy director of Beijing's independent Think Tank Research Centre for Health Development, said the ban was "a great improvement for China's anti-smoking campaign", according to the state-run China Daily paper.
But Jiang Huan, deputy director of China's National Tobacco Control Office, was quoted by the Beijing News as saying that without specified punishments, the rules might not be followed.
A ban introduced in Shanghai before last year's World Expo has proved to be largely ineffective, with smokers continuing to light up openly in front of "no smoking" signs in hotels, restaurants and conference halls.
Authorities issued one fine in the first three months of the Shanghai ban. In the first year, only five people and 12 venues were penalised in the city of more than 20 million people, the Shanghai Daily reported.
Similarly, Beijing tried to introduce a smoking ban before the 2008 Olympic Games, but this has also widely been flouted.
"It will take a long time, maybe 50 years, to realise our original goal of smoke-free public venues," municipal legislator Sun Shiyun told the Shanghai Daily this month.
According to a January report by Chinese and foreign medical experts, smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke result in a huge medical and social cost in China.
More than 3.5 million Chinese are likely to die from smoking-related illnesses each year by 2030, it said, singling out China's state-run cigarette industry for particular blame.