Chinese city gets tough on smoking for Asian Games

BEIJING, September  8, 2010 (AFP) - The Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou has set the "toughest" anti-smoking rules in the tobacco-addicted nation as the city spruces up for the Asian Games in November, state media reported on Wednesday.

Smokers in the city will incur fines of up to 50 yuan (seven dollars) for lighting up in public places such as offices, elevators and karaoke parlours under the rules which came into effect on September 1, Xinhua news agency said.

Xinhua called it "the nation's toughest smoking ban."

But the fine is roughly equivalent to the cost of four to five packs of mid-priced cigarettes in China, the report said -- a relative slap on the wrist for residents of one of China's richest cities.

China has an estimated 300 million smokers, who freely light up in restaurants, buses, and other public spaces. An offer of a cigarette has become an almost ceremonial gesture when Chinese meet new people.

China is the world's biggest consumer of tobacco, and up to a million people in the country die every year from lung cancer or cardiovascular diseases directly linked to smoking.

Authorities have launched various anti-smoking campaigns over the years amid growing fears of a looming health timebomb.

The government has pledged to ban smoking in all indoor public places by next year, but activists and experts have raised doubts that the rules can be implemented in a country where enforcement of many laws is weak.

Xinhua quoted Jiang Huan, deputy head of the National Tobacco Control Office, as saying a nationwide ban would deal a heavy economic blow as nearly a tenth of tax revenue in the country comes from tobacco sales.

Under the new Guangzhou rules, smoking is now strictly banned in "public locations including offices, conference rooms, halls and elevators."

Smoking will be allowed in places such as airports, shopping centres and restaurants with more than 75 seats, but only in designated areas, Xinhua said.

Proprietors of locations where the ban is broken face fines of 3,000-5,000 yuan.

The two-week Asian Games kick off on November 12.