China's anti-smoking law could get tougher

Guangzhou (China Daily/ANN) - People who light up in non-smoking areas in Guangzhou may soon be slapped with a fine without warning.

The current law in the Guangdong provincial capital requires enforcement officers to provide a warning before fining someone 50 yuan ($8) for smoking in indoor workplaces and other public areas.

So far this year, officers in the city have received more than 1,200 complaints about smoking in public places, with 84 percent occurring in restaurants and entertainment venues such as nightclubs and karaoke bars.

But only one smoker has been fined so far this year, according to enforcement officials.

Guangzhou People's Congress is now seeking public opinions for a draft amendment that would drop the requirement for a warning before a fine. The public can visit the legislature's website to see the full text of the draft and e-mail, fax or write to the legislature to air their opinions before May 15.

After hearing from the public, the legislature will update the draft and put it to a vote at next month's legislative session.

An official from the Guangzhou urban management commission, who would not be named as he is not allowed to receive media interviews without official authorization, admitted that the bureau lacks manpower to enforce the regulation.

"And law enforcers usually find it difficult to collect evidences to fine the smokers," the official said on Thursday.

But he said the bureau plans to work with relevant departments to handle the issue in the following months.

Many local residents welcome the revised anti-smoking regulation, but fear it will be ineffective.

Chen Wenjie, a Guangzhou office worker, said the draft is an improvement. "But a fine of only 50 yuan for smokers is still not severe enough to deter law breakers," he said.

Wang Fangwei, a local housewife, said the draft amendment is good, but she does not think it could be fully carried out.

"Many law enforcement agencies in the city are lax on punishment in fighting illegal smoking," she said.

Also, by the time enforcement authorities arrive, the smokers might have stopped because it takes only two to three minutes to finish a cigarette, she added.

She called for more concrete and effective measures, such as fining the operators of restaurants instead of smokers.

However, many restaurant and bar managers and bosses are opposed to the proposed smoking ban.

"The smoking ban and the fine to the smokers would certainly affect the restaurant's business," said Zheng Canrong, a restaurant manager in Guangzhou's Yuexiu district.

According to statistics from the Guangzhou Tobacco Control Association, Guangzhou is estimated to have more than 2 million smokers, representing 18 percent of the city's population.

That figure has been on the rise in recent years.

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