A doctor gives a lesson on tobacco control to primary school students in Qinhuangdao, north China's Hebei Province, on May 30 (XINHUA)
In a recent video, two men are sitting in a public area at the Palace Museum in Beijing smoking. One of them says to the camera, "Who dares smoke at the Palace Museum? Who dares?" Posted online on July 19, the clip went viral.
There has been a carpet smoking ban at the historic landmark since May 18, 2013, to protect it from fire risks. The two visitors' behavior received both angry replies from netizens and criticism from relevant government departments. They, and the person who shot the video, were soon caught and fined by the police.
"We strongly condemn such behavior," said Mao Qun'an, Director of the Planning Department of the National Health Commission (NHC), at a press conference on China's tobacco control action plan held on July 20, noting that banning smoking, especially at cultural heritage sites and other important locations, concerns people's health and the sites' safety.
Cutting at the source
Implementing tobacco control is one of the 15 main campaigns detailed in the Healthy China Action Plan for 2019-30 issued by the State Council, China's cabinet, on July 15. The document says the proportion of the population protected by comprehensive smoke-free regulations should reach 30 percent by 2022 and 80 percent by 2030.
To achieve this goal, a range of actions have been taken, according to Mao. Non-smokers are urged to neither start smoking nor be exposed to secondhand smoke. Stores are prohibited from selling tobacco products to juveniles; illegal tobacco ads are severely punished; and smoking scenes are restricted in movies and television programs.
For smokers, they are encouraged to abide by non-smoking area rules or quit smoking altogether for the sake of their and others' health. Supervision and law enforcement are strengthened in public areas; tobacco control education is enhanced to raise people's awareness of the dangers of tobacco; the system for quitting smoking is improved; and medical and health institutions at all levels are required to offer various ways to assist people who are willing to quit smoking. Taxation and pricing regulations are being studied as methods of improving tobacco control efficiency.
In addition, effective practices adopted by other countries have been introduced in China, such as setting up a hotline reminder, short-duration smoking cessation intervention and mobile app services.
Tobacco control has been a long-term endeavor for China. In March 2017, Shanghai implemented a smoking ban in indoor public places, workplaces and public transport, such as hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, hospitals, airports, train stations and ports, as well as outdoor public areas frequented by children,including schools, afterschool educational institutions and children's hospitals.
Beijing's tough smoking ban, imposed in June 2015, has led to hundreds of thousands of smokers quitting, according to Mao.
E-cigarettes, which are supposedly a less harmful alternative to cigarettes, are also causing concern. In spite of their increasing popularity, the additives and aerosol they produce are also health-threatening. The nicotine concentration of many e-cigarettes are not clearly stated, which can lead to overuse. In addition, there are other safety risks, such as battery explosion, smoke fluid leaks and scald burns.
According to a survey released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) in May, the e-cigarette usage rate among smokers aged between 15 and 24 was 1.5 percent, but there was an increase in the number of young e-cigarette smokers.
In 2018, a study published in PLoS ONE, a scientific journal, suggested that e-cigarette use may be associated with teenagers and young adults who used to start smoking traditional cigarettes and, eventually, became daily smokers.
"Given the unsafe nature of e-cigarettes, the NHC and relevant departments are studying possible e-cigarette legislation," Mao said.
According to the action plan, offices of Communist Party of China organizations and government departments at all levels will become smoke-free, with smoking gradually banned in indoor public spaces, workplaces and public transport nationwide.
In 2013, a ban on smoking in Party and government offices was released and put into strict practice. To facilitate its implementation, training sessions, seminars and many other experience sharing activities have been held.
"A complete set of rules has been established and achieved preliminary results," said Li Xinhua, Deputy Director of China CDC, adding that in addition to Party and government workers, civil servants, medical practitioners and teachers are encouraged to set an example.
Li noted that building smoke-free Party and government offices will be the key impetus for China's tobacco control. Meanwhile, China CDC has formulated appropriate and detailed methods and developed guide books and toolkits, with assessment and learning activities, as well as surveys planned to ensure results.
Sun Pangzi (a pseudonym) is a 57-year-old retiree in Beijing who quit smoking 12 years ago due to pressure from his family and coworkers. Even though he stopped his 30-year habit, he still thinks smoking is a personal choice. He, along with many others, is still not convinced of the hazards of smoking.
To this end, the action plan states that individuals and households should be made fully aware of the severe hazards caused by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. The foundation for smoking control is to widely publicize the dangers of tobacco, Mao said at the press conference.
"The dangers are not only about causing certain diseases like cancer or cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, but also about the impact it has on the entire body and its functioning system," he said, noting that the country is improving a national database and trying to bring the latest research results to the public.
Li Changning, Director of the Chinese Health Education Center, said multiple measures have proven effective in promoting a smoke-free lifestyle to the public, such as handing out brochures, increasing advertising and posters, organizing thematic activities and inviting celebrities to be ambassadors of the campaign.
He said traditional and new media measures are being combined in the dissemination of tobacco control information. During this year's World No Tobacco Day activities, posts under tobacco control-related tags received 160 million views and 71,000 discussions on new media platforms.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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