Smoking ban

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-10 08:04
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To the disappointment of many, the government kept quiet on Sunday when it was supposed to execute a ban on smoking in all indoor public places in China.

The silence shows either indecisiveness on the part of the government or its unwillingness to cut down on its addiction to its revenue from tobacco.

Stopping people from smoking is difficult, some people point to how addictive cigarettes are; others say that they smoke because of the pressure of the smoking culture in the country - a saying goes that men who don't smoke work in vain to reach the top of the world - still others lay the blame on the legislators who have failed to legalize the ban on smoking.

All these fail to reach the heart of the matter.

The money coming from the tobacco industry is one of the biggest barriers.

The government will be merely an armchair strategist if it can't tear itself away from tobacco money. Some areas have made the smoking ban law. But their law enforcement remains poor under the temptation of tax revenues.

Where the shoe really pinches is that no department is willing to be responsible for banning smoking.

The Ministry of Health educates the public about the dangers of smoking; it is not in charge of banning smoking.

The Ministry of Information and Technology is responsible for working out measures to control smoking. At the same time it has the State Tobacco Monopoly under its command.

The dual role the ministry plays offers a ready answer to the question of why a smoking ban won't succeed in the country.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry, is full of ambition. It has made public its new year's resolution: to take its production of cigarettes to a higher level.

Why can tobacco companies produce "cigarettes of high quality and low price" that smokers are unable to give up? Why has no fine been issued in areas that have laws on banning smoking in indoor public places?

It is not difficult to find the answer to these questions when tobacco is a main source of tax revenue for local officials.

The steady development of the tobacco industry has cultivated an interest group. Developing the national economy provides an alibi for its members to resist a smoking ban. The stalling tactics they employ could make the national government's attempts to control smoking a protracted process.

Banning smoking in all indoor public places is a matter of great importance that concerns the people's health and the image of this country, which we care so much about in most cases. It means much more to us than the immediate tax revenue from the tobacco industry.

The government made a commitment when it ratified the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control five years ago, if it is serious about honoring that commitment, the government needs to overcome the addiction to tobacco revenues.

This state of affairs can't continue.