Welcome to the smoke-free Olympics. Got a light?
BEIJING (Reuters) - It's been declared a "smoke free Olympics" -- but tell that to the furtive puffers dragging on their cigarettes around Olympic venues.
In China there are over 350 million smokers, with one of every three cigarettes smoked in the world lit up in China, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
So it was a major task to get the world's heaviest smokers to stub out for the August 8-24 Games -- as well as the 500,000 overseas tourists in Beijing -- despite Chinese officials banning smoking in Olympic arenas.
"You do have to be a bit discreet," said a tourist from New Zealand, hiding his lit cigarette under a bench about a stone's throw from the Bird's Nest stadium.
"At the opening ceremony they cordoned off an area at the back of the stadium for smokers. It did last nearly five hours!"
Athletes too can be spotted smoking around venues.
"I'd say 70 out of 100 athletes in the Olympic village smoke," said Italian weightlifter Giorgio de Luca, perhaps exaggerating a little, as he wound down with a cigarette.
Visitors to Olympic Green, a 2,800-acre complex about 8 km (5 miles) north of Tiananmen Square, have to hand in lighters as they head through security checks on entering.
But smokers left without a light can stop volunteers on duty or ask at food kiosks as many staff members carry lighters and all the garbage bins have well-used ashtrays attached.
With cigarettes as cheap as 20 U.S. cents for a pack of 20, there is no financial need for Chinese smokers to quit.
Powerful lobbying by tobacco companies, looking to bolster numbers in China as smoking declines in the West, can also confuse the health message, with some surveys showing two-thirds of Chinese people think smoking does little or no harm.
Chinese Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang, 25, was signed up to promote Baisha, one of China's biggest cigarette companies. It was only after an outcry by health advocates that Beijing TV cancelled the adverts and the company scrapped the campaign.
Beijing officials have taken action, banning smoking in most public buildings, taxis, hospitals, on public transport, and ruling restaurants and bars must provide non-smoking areas.
Individual violators faces fines of 10 yuan (US$1.45) while companies who ignore the ban face fines of up to $700.
But not everyone is in favour. Zhang Baozhen, deputy chief of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, last year said smoking bans would cause riots.
He was cheered by those against losing any of the estimated $30 billion the government made from tobacco-related taxes in 2006, which made the industry the largest taxpayer.
Dr. Evelyn Fang of the Beijing United Family Hospital said previous attempts to combat smoking had not been successful with a voluntary "ban" on smoking in restaurants in 2006 ignored.
But she said the statute introduced this May requiring restaurants to have a non-smoking area had made a difference.
"Just having the mandatory non-smoking signs up has discouraged smokers somewhat," she told Reuters.
The WHO estimates smoking kills about 4 million people a year -- of which about 1 million deaths are in China. It predicts this could rise to 2.2 million a year if smoking rates do not change.
(Additional reporting by Sophie Hardach, Editing by Keith Weir)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this