BEIJING, May 2 (Xinhuanet) -- This year's May Day also marks the advent of a new smoking ban in China. The law will apply to all public indoor spaces -- including restaurants, bars, Internet cafes, and public transport. But as the regulation comes into force, our reporter Wang Guan finds that violators are still numerous, and a bigger question is whether the vaguely worded rules might be too weak to make a real difference.
Bigger signs remind people that, starting on May 1st, all indoor public places should be smoke-free, both inside and out.
But at many indoor venues around Beijing, some still take chances, and think they'll get away with lighting up, just like before.
Zhang Zhiqiang is a heavy smoker. He says he tried to kick the habit a few times and failed. He adds that a deeply entrenched smoking culture in China makes it very difficult to quit.
Zhang Zhiqiang, Smoker, said, "I am addicted to smoking. I will die if I quit smoking. Furthermore, it's hard to make friends or do business without smoking. Presenting cigarettes to others is a huge part of our culture."
The new regulation mandates a penalty of up to 30-thousand yuan, or less than five-thousand US dollars, for owners of establishments that fail to stop smokers. But it's still unclear who will enforce the ban, what actions trigger a fine and, most importantly, what the penalty should be for individuals who light up.
Before these questions can be answered by the authorities, many already fear the new rules are not enough to effectively restrain smokers from puffing in public.
Wang Yuanliang, Non-smoker, said, "The ban should be harsher. I hate people who smoke. I can't stand them. It harms other people's health. It also infringes upon other people's rights."
Zhang Liyuan, Non-smoker, said, "Those who smoke in public indoor places should think about children, the elderly, and pregnant ladies who became victims of their filthy behavior."
China has the world's largest smoking population -- 350 million. In other words, one of every three smokers on the planet comes from China. And in this country, 3,000 people die every day from smoking-related diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Cigarette smoke contributes to four of the five leading causes of death around the nation.
But so far, only 20 percent of the adults in China believe smoking causes cancer, or other health problems.
Many experts feel a lack of public education campaigns is the reason for this knowledge gap.
Xiang Fan, Head Patrol Officer of Beijing Liuliqiao Transport Hub, said, "We try to stop every smoker we spot in this hall, but often, those who are caught react very strongly, and give us a hard time. I think it will be a long and arduous process to make public areas smoke free. People need better awareness."
The ultimate obstacle to enforcing a smoking ban could be the government itself ... which has a direct stake in the industry. The China National Tobacco Corporation is a state-owned cigarette monopoly, and the largest company of this type in the world.
According to the China Daily, nearly 8 percent of the country's revenue came from taxes and profits related to tobacco in 2009.
"It's not just old habits that die hard. Experts say smokers develop physical, psychological, and social needs for smoking over time. And to kill nicotine addiction, it takes stronger awareness campaigns, and comprehensive therapeutic processes, rather than simply posting more no-smoking signs in public venues. Wang Guan, CCTV, Beijing."