This is huge: No more public smoking in Beijing

It’s no secret that smoking is near endemic in the People’s Republic of China. In fact, the Chinese account for one-third of the world’s smokers—and one-third of the world’s lung cancer victims.

But the East Asian country—whose state-owned China National Tobacco Corp. is the world’s largest manufacturer of cigarettes—is attempting to make slow-moving, but significant changes, starting with its capital and the nation’s third most populous city, Beijing. As of June 1, smoking is officially banned in public places, including restaurants, office spaces, and public transportation, and signs have been plastered throughout the city featuring hand signals people can use to warn others that smoking is not allowed in certain places.

Under the new law, businesses that fail to ban smoking may be fined up to 10,000 yuan ($1600) while individuals will face a fine of 200 yuan ($32.25).

This isn’t the first time Beijing has attempted to curb smoking within its already highly-polluted city limits: Laws were passed in 1996 and 2008, but with the fine set at just 10 yuan and little to no enforcement, the bans failed to stick.

And the effects have been devastating: With more than half of all Chinese men admitting to cigarette use, rates of lung cancer have skyrocketed. In Beijing alone, lung cancer diagnoses increased by more than 50 percent between 2002 and 2010.

There is hope, though, that the ban may stick this time around. President Xi Jinping is a reformed smoker himself and seems committed to reversing this trend, starting at the top. In his first year as president, the Chinese leader barred Communist Party members from smoking in public places thus quashing a longstanding tradition of trading high-quality cigarettes for brownie points among government officials.

And if all that—lung cancer rates, government disapproval, and heavy fines—aren’t enough to deter even the staunchest smoking advocates, the last resort is a new government-run website where three-time violators will be very publicly named and shamed.

A representative from the World Health Organization called it one of the toughest smoke-free bans in the world. And while another WHO rep praised the move, calling it a “wonderful gift,” according to NBCNews, others are alarmed at the measures being taken—with respect to the Internet policing of smokers.

The Washington Post reports that social shaming is so popular in Asia that it’s been called a ‘human flesh search engine,’ and in the past the government has expressed concerns that Internet shaming could lead to “cyberviolence and privacy violations.”

Hopefully, this bold move to tamp out smoking doesn’t do more harm than good.

(Images via Twitter, BBC)