The ministry surveyed hundreds of hotels and restaurants in Shandong, Gansu, Xinjiang and Heilongjiang Provinces over the past year and found that only 1.4 percent of them had anti-smoking signs, despite a national ban on indoor smoking in public places since 2011.
Ninety percent of smokers in these areas said that they would have stopped if reminded about the rule, a ministry director told state-run Xinhua.
“Although the majority of the public support the smoke-free policy in public places, the policies are widely and blatantly ignored,” said Xiaodong Kuang in his study “Print Anti-smoking Advertising in China and Short-term Effects on Adolescents” published in 2008, attributing the neglect to a lack of enforcement.
There are 350 million smokers in China and the nation produces around 40 percent of the world’s tobacco under a state monopoly. Smoking is a popular activity for nearly half the male population in China and many begin smoking at a young age.
It is more frowned upon for women to smoke, but they are still affected by second-hand smoke. About 83 percent of over 72,000 women in China reported exposure to tobacco smoke from their husbands, according a July report from the Almgest, a peer-review journal.
“Even with the ‘no smoking’ sign in many public places, the smokers are still enjoying themselves,” said a netizen in Zhejiang Province, “It seems like for now, smoking can’t be stamped out by this campaign.”
Kuang wrote that the smoke-free policy has only been executed on a local level, unlike other national policies, such as the one-child policy. He named a culture of smoking and business incentives as other obstacles to enforcing the policy.
“Just close down the cigarette factories. They’re all big taxpayers!” a Jiangsu netizen commented on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
China is attempting to cut down the number of smokers from 28 percent in 2010, to 25 percent in 2015, according to state-run Xinhua. However, by 2025, it’s predicted that the annual number dead from smoking will reach 2 million, double the number in 2013, writes Kuang.
Among fourteen developing countries, the only country China has managed to best in anti-smoking efforts is Russia, according to research from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cited by the state-run China Daily.
Another netizen, in Jiangsu Province, commented, “This proves that the Chinese government isn’t sincere in its anti-smoking campaign. They’re more likely trading the well-being of citizens for some tobacco tax.”
“You’re allowing sales of cigarettes but not allowing us to enjoy them!” wrote a Guangdong netizen, “If you want to stop people from smoking, then just order the shops to stop selling.”