Beijing has backed away from a blanket ban on smoking in public places ahead of the Olympics after bar and restaurant owners complained it would scare off customers, state press reported Monday.
The China Daily had reported two weeks ago that the Chinese capital on May 1 would ban smoking in all restaurants, offices and schools, and require bar owners to separate smoking and non-smoking areas.
It would have made Beijing the first Chinese city with such a comprehensive ban.
But the newspaper said Monday that Beijing authorities had since decided to exempt restaurants, bars and Internet cafes, amid fears China's legions of persistent smokers would rebel.
"Owners of Chinese restaurants, both big and small, worried the plan would hurt their business," the newspaper quoted Zhang Peili, a city legislative affairs official overseeing the rules, as saying.
"It is difficult for us to control smoking in restaurants. It's just part of the culture."
China has about 350 million smokers, making up about a quarter of its population and one-third of the world's smokers, according to official statistics.
Bars and restaurants are often filled with an acrid haze, with diners routinely lighting up even as they eat.
City officials had aimed to eliminate such behaviour before the Olympics, when up to 500,000 foreign visitors arrive for the August 8-24 Games.
Under the amended restrictions set to begin May 1, only government offices, schools, museums, hospitals and sports venues will be smoke-free, the China Daily said.
Beijing already has some restrictions in place on public smoking, such as bans in cinemas, sports arenas and other large public venues, but those are often flouted.
Beijing taxi drivers have also, in theory, been banned since last year from smoking in their vehicles but routinely light up with passengers in the car.
Places that accommodate athletes and officials during the Olympics are all to be non-smoking.
About one million people die of smoking-related diseases each year in China, according to the World Health Organisation.