Questions and answers on Beijing smoke-free law

27 May 2015

From 1 June, all indoor public places in Beijing will be required by law to be 100 per cent smoke-free. Here are some answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Beijing’s new smoke-free law.

This piece was first published in The Beijinger, May 2015.

All indoor public places, really? Are all bars and restaurants covered?

Yes, smoking will be banned in all indoor public places, including bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels and hotel lobbies, subway stations, shops, and the airport. ‘Designated smoking areas’ inside any of these places will not be allowed. From 1 June, if you are indoors, don’t smoke. Smoking is really bad for you and those around you – now would be a good time to quit!

Are offices included?

Yes, all workplaces and office buildings – government and private – are covered by the law.

What about outdoor areas, especially near the entrance of buildings where smokers often congregate?

The new Beijing law does not specifically prohibit smoking near the entrances to buildings, though of course building owners and managers may choose to do set up outdoor smoking areas away from the entrance to protect people walking in and out. Some corporations have chosen to make their entire compounds smoke-free.

However, smoking will be banned in some other outdoor public places, like at kindergartens, primary and middle schools, historical and cultural sites, playing areas and auditoriums in stadiums and fitness centers, and maternal and child health facilities.

Beijing has tried to ban smoking indoors before and it hasn’t worked. Will it really work this time?

Previous attempts at banning smoking indoors in Beijing haven’t been successful for a combination of reasons: poor enforcement has been part of the problem, but the previous law was weak and so full of loopholes that it would have been pretty hard to enforce anyway. The new law is clear and strong, and this time owners and managers of public places are responsible for ensuring compliance. They’ll be liable for fines of up to 10,000RMB if they don’t – and fines of up to 100,000RMB for flouting the law’s restrictions on tobacco promotion and sponsorship.

What do I do if I see someone smoking in a restaurant / bar / office?

First, tell them to stop! If they don’t, complain to the owner or manager. And if that doesn’t work – call 12320 and complain (or ask a Chinese friend to do it if your Mandarin is not so good). The law requires the health authorities to register and follow up on complaints.

Is it really going to be enforced?

The Beijing Government is training thousands of inspectors who will inspect venues and workplaces, and issue fines if people are smoking. Thousands of community volunteers will also be mobilised to support enforcement of the law.

But Beijing is a big city, and the health inspectors can’t be out and about in every venue, all of the time. All of us have a role to play in supporting enforcement of the law: for instance, by asking people who are violating the law to stop. Beijing authorities have also suggested three simple hand signs that you can use, if you prefer not to talk.

The air in Beijing is really bad anyway. What’s the point of banning smoking indoors and forcing smokers outside into the pollution?

The PM2.5 reading in a restaurant where 3 people are smoking is likely to be around 600. Five people smoking in a restaurant? 1200. Twenty or thirty people smoking in a crowded bar and the PM2.5 will be off the scale. In other words, the air inside a smoky restaurant or bar is much, much worse than the air outside on even the most heavily polluted day. We do need the “war on air pollution”. But we also need a “war on tobacco”. The new Beijing smoke-free law is an opportunity to have a huge impact on one of the greatest risk factors for the health of Beijingers, and beyond. Our great city will be so much greater when all indoor public places are smoke-free!