Editorial: Cycle of smoking needs to be broken

Imagine this: You are an American tourist visiting Beijing. You decide not to splurge for the five- or six-star hotel. Instead, you pay for a four-star, non-smoking room.

And the only downside is that even though it’s non-smoking, the sheets, carpets, drapes, and even the bathroom reek of stale cigarette smoke because it’s so prevalent. Though you are a non-smoker, your options are limited.

This is a typical story that vacationers bring back to the United States after visiting China.

However, there may be a reprieve soon. China has enacted a new rule that bans smoking in enclosed public spaces, which will be in effect on May 1. This rule also stipulates that business owners set up no-smoking signs and have staff members dissuade people from smoking. Additionally, there will also be promotional materials to warn people of the dangers of tobacco.

China has the world’s largest smoking population and is the biggest producer of tobacco.

Twenty-eight percent of all Chinese smoke. Also, a large percentage of China’s non-smokers inhale second-hand smoke in restaurants, offices, schools, and hospitals and on public transportation.

The new rules say that officials are allowed to give smokers a fine of up to RMB 30,000.

One thing is for sure. Officials are facing an uphill battle. Indoor smoking was banned in Shanghai last year, but little has changed. One of Seattle Chinese Post’s writers, Gregory Tsang, is based in Beijing. He has dedicated the last 20 years of his career toward campaigning against smoking and informing people of its effects on health. Though extremely passionate about his admirable cause, Tsang says that the results have been mixed and progress has been slow.

At the very least, China is taking a step forward. With a massive population — with a large percentage of that population smoking and being exposed to smoke — China stands to lose a lot of money in paying for the deteriorating health of its citizens due to the smoking epidemic. Something has to be done because the consequences are dire.  It’s very costly to take care of people who have lung cancer, throat cancer, or emphysema or who have suffered from a heart attack or stroke.

In China, there is currently very little education about how smoking causes health problems. What is interesting is that there are many women smokers who get cosmetic surgery, which is also on the rise. Ironically, these women are unaware of the fact that their smoking will drastically affect their appearance for the worst. Perhaps if more women were made aware of the harmful effects of tobacco on their looks, there would be fewer smokers.

Currently, smoking is so widely accepted and so much the norm in China that it has become generational. Children are seeing their parents and teachers with cigarettes, and they, in turn, grow up to be lifelong tobacco users.  The cycle needs to be broken.

It wasn’t too long ago that a tobacco culture was ingrained in the minds of American citizens. However, through increased public awareness and education, the number of smokers in the United States has significantly decreased. ♦

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