Beijing — In China, tobacco companies sponsor schools. Almost half of all male doctors smoke. And one wedding dinner ritual involves the bride lighting cigarettes for each of her male guests.
China has committed to banning smoking at public indoor venues by Jan. 9 next year, in accordance with a global anti-tobacco treaty backed by the World Health Organization. But smoking is such a way of life that China is unlikely to meet the deadline, and even the government seems resigned to failure.
Smoking is linked to the deaths of at least 1 million people in China every year. The WHO cites a projection by Oxford University professor Sir Richard Peto that of the young Chinese men alive today, one in three will die from tobacco.
Over the past several years, China has banned tobacco advertising on radio, television and newspapers and outlawed smoking in some places, such as on airplanes. During the 2008 Olympics, Beijing and other host cities in China went smoke-free.
In recent months, China banned smoking at pavilions and restaurants in the Shanghai Expo, as well as the Health Ministry’s own 19-story office building in Beijing — the first central government agency to prohibit puffing indoors. Weeks ago, authorities also instructed kindergartens and elementary, secondary and vocational schools to ban smoking on campus and bar teachers from lighting up in front of students.
But health authorities are still losing the fight against a habit that has wafted into nearly every corner of society, backed by a powerful state-owned tobacco monopoly. The rate of smoking has not changed significantly, and tobacco production has actually gone up.