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Beijing Shows Commitment to Tobacco-Free Olympics

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 23, 2008

Municipal government moves to strengthen smoke-free places

Washington, D.C. — The Beijing Municipal Government has taken an important step toward delivering on the promise of a tobacco-free Olympics by issuing draft regulations to strengthen significantly the city’s existing prohibition on smoking in public places.

If the government adopts strong final regulations requiring smoke-free public places, Beijing can protect its residents, Olympic competitors, and visitors from the serious health hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke.

The Beijing Municipal Government has shown commendable leadership in its commitment to a tobacco-free Olympics and is setting an important example for China, which is home to one-third of the world’s smokers. With the Chinese Ministry of Health estimating that roughly 100,000 Chinese citizens die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke, these regulations provide momentum for efforts by national, provincial and municipal governments to counter a serious threat to public health.

As the smoke-free regulations will remain in place after the Olympics, strong regulations will help ensure that one of the legacies of the Olympics is a healthier Beijing and a healthier China.

The draft smoke-free regulations, issued on January 21, are now open for public comment until February 1. The regulations, which are expected to be finalized following the Chinese New Year and go into effect on May 31, 2008, contain many of the important elements of strong smoke-free law as set out in guidelines adopted by parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the international tobacco control treaty. China signed the treaty in 2003, ratified it in 2005, and voted to adopt the smoke-free guidelines at a Conference of the Parties in Thailand in July 2007.

The draft regulations extend the scope of smoke-free regulations originally passed by the Beijing People’s Congress in December 1995. The draft regulations ban smoking in a wide range of public places and workplaces, including offices, restaurants, and hotels.

The draft regulations also show commendable foresight by providing provisions for enforcement – including a fine of up to US$690 on the management of facilities that fail to comply – and public education about the dangers of smoking and of exposure to secondhand smoke.

While admirably extending existing smoke-free requirements, the draft regulations stop short of compliance with the guidelines of the FCTC by allowing smoking areas or rooms in these places. We urge Beijing’s government to review the evidence – included in the Ministry of Health’s 2007 Tobacco Control Report on secondhand smoke – that separate smoking areas or rooms and ventilation systems do not provide adequate protection from the toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke.

Beijing should eliminate provisions for separate smoking areas or rooms from the regulations. Secondhand tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 that are known to cause cancer. It is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses, sudden infant death syndrome and low birth weight.

The Ministry of Health’s 2007 Tobacco Control Report shows that as many as 540 million people are exposed to the hazards of secondhand smoke in China, 180 million of whom are children below the age of fifteen. One million Chinese die from tobacco-related illness each year, a number that is projected to leap to two million by 2020.

In 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged that China’s Green Olympics would also be a Tobacco-Free Olympics. By promulgating a strengthened smoking ban, making sure that separate smoking areas or rooms are not allowed, and strongly implementing the smoke-free regulations, Beijing’s Municipal Government can join the ranks of places like France, Turkey, and Thailand that have begun the new year with new smoke-free laws that help protect their citizens from a global tobacco epidemic that will kill one billion people worldwide this century if current trends persist.