BEIJING Jan 29 China has banned smoking in
schools, state media reported on Wednesday, the latest step in a
government drive to kick the country's pervasive tobacco habit.
Despite years of campaigning by health activists, China is
the world's largest consumer of cigarettes and smokers can be
spotted everywhere, even in schools and hospitals.
But with a huge public health burden looming ever larger,
China has recently intensified efforts to stamp out smoking.
The State Council, or cabinet, is aiming for a nationwide
ban on smoking in public places this year, and several cities
have already introduced anti-smoking regulations.
But critics say authorities only enforce bans sporadically,
if at all, and it is common to see people puffing away in front
of no smoking signs.
The latest ban, imposed by the Ministry of Education, covers
kindergartens, elementary and middle schools, and vocational
schools. Universities must set up smoking areas and forbid
lighting up in academic buildings.
Anti-tobacco efforts have been hampered by the country's
powerful tobacco monopoly, health campaigners say, which pays
hundreds of billions of yuan in taxes every year.
Critics say another problem is that it is not clear who is
responsible for punishing violators of cigarette bans, meaning
officials often just turn a blind eye.
Schools can no longer seek sponsorship from cigarette brands
or post tobacco advertisements on campus, the ministry said in a
School principals must enforce the ban by installing smoke
alarms or surveillance cameras to spot offenders. School
canteens must also stop selling tobacco.
Schools that do not crack down properly will be punished,
the ministry said.
As part of the battle against smoking, the government had
earlier urged Communist Party cadres and government officials to
stop smoking in schools, workplaces, stadiums, and on public
transport and elsewhere to set a good example.
(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Robert Birsel)