China banning smoking indoors? I would like to see that implemented…



China banning smoking indoors? I would like to see that implemented…

A couple of days ago several news agencies, such as CNNBBC or The Guardian were posting reports about China’s move to ban indoor public smoking nationwide. I found this news incredible. We don’t have to talk about what smoking can do to your health. We all know. At least that’s what I thought…

Personally, I have endured a lot of people smoking in trains, in restaurants, and even in hospitals in China. I hate it. But if it comes to smoking in China, it is not just a bad habit; it seems to have become intertwined with the Chinese culture. Where ever we went, a visit to relatives or just to the local shop, Jin always had at least one pack of cigarettes with him. Not because he smokes. God forbid. No, because it is polite to offer a cigarette to a friend, relative or just someone you met. Business dinners are even worth. It’s a polite and formal gesture to offer a cigarette. Refusing could be seen in a bad way, especially for men.

In Anhui they grow a lot of tobacco plants.

In Anhui they grow a lot of tobacco plants.

For me it seems that China has been remarkably unsuccessful at enforcing existing laws meant to control tobacco use. If you look at China’s history, the first anti-smoking movement was recorded in 1639, in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644). After that, there was the time of Opium consumption, and later, smoking even became hip. Subjectively, it feels as if every single person in China is smoking (except most of the girls). And if you look at the real numbers, it’s not far away from the truth. Global Health Governance Blog states:

There are as many as 350 million smokers in China, which is approximately 30 percent of the smokers worldwide.  Tobacco use accounts for 12 percent of total deaths in China and the country produces about 2.3 trillion cigarettes annually, which is 40 percent of the world’s total. Simply put, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco products.

So I wasn’t that wrong after all. If you have a look at the WHO atlas of Cigarette Consumption the average number of smoked cigarettes per man per day in China has risen from one in 1952 to 15 in 1996. It’s simply shocking to me.

I don’t see China being able to really ban smoking. It’s politically impossible. The Chinese government owns the country’s tobacco industry, and 7-10% of its annual revenue comes from tobacco sales.

 harvest tabacco plants

And it’s not just the government that would have to find a new sector. My family-in-law literally lives from selling tobacco plants.

chinese countrysideAnhui is one of the major producers for Chinese tobacco. I have seen my parents-in-law planting, harvesting, binding, drying and then selling the tobacco. It sells very well. If they wouldn’t have that income, they would be very very poor.

In our Niuji village you can see those tobacco plants growing everywhere during the summer seasons. The whole family would help. Binding the single tobacco leaves together, in order to hang them in the little “smoking houses”, is a family activity. I did my share of binding dried tobacco leaves together. When you just see those leaves you don’t really think “oh those are gonna be cigarettes, and they are gonna kill thousands of people”. But in the end of the day, what they were doing is producing cigarettes.

Those little houses 烟炕 are used to dry the tobacco plants. Every family has several.

Those little houses 烟炕 are used to dry the tobacco plants. Every family has several.

We all know how dangerous they can be. But the ignorance some Chinese people have towards smoking even amazes me. Some people told me smoking is very good for your throat! And if you smoke once per day it will make you stronger… I know those are simple people, with nearly no access to the rest of the world. But it makes me so sad. Surveys showed two-thirds of Chinese people think smoking does little or no harm, 60% think it does not cause lung cancer and 96% do not know that it causes heart disease.

In every single street in Niuji you would see people gathering, sorting and binding the tobacco leaves.

In every single street in Niuji you would see people gathering, sorting and binding the tobacco leaves.

My granny with over 90 years still works on the tobacco fields. Bless her.

My granny with over 90 years still works on the tobacco fields. Bless her.

My Chinese family will continue to produce tobacco. It helps them to live a normal life. But I wished my father-in-law would stop smoking…

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

4 thoughts on “China banning smoking indoors? I would like to see that implemented…

  1. Anna, just wanted to say I’m loving these posts on your experiences in rural Anhui — very fascinating and insightful.

    I’d also add that my Chinese husband is a nonsmoker and never carries around cigarettes. He hates smoking and knows that offering cigs will only encourage others to smoke around him, which he doesn’t like at all. Maybe he’s an anomaly, but then again his existence gives me hope that there are more people out there like him who also don’t wish to support the traditional “smoking culture” in China.

  2. Wow, 7-10 per cent annual revenue from smoking for the government, that’s a crazy number!

    My husband hates smoking – he has grown up with a father who used to smoke right next to him. The worst thing about people smoking here is that they do not care about people nearby. It doesn’t matter if there’s a pregnant woman right next to them or a little child, they will still smoke (even if they know second hand smoke is bad for your health).

    The first time my parents in-law were at our place my FIL went into the kitchen to smoke. What the hell?! We told him beforehand that he can’t smoke indoors, but he thought if he closes the door to the kitchen it won’t matter. The whole apartment was smelling like smoke afterwards. We told him that this is a no go and he now smokes on the balcony with closed doors. My husband also told him that if he smokes one cigarette in the new apartment they have bought in their hometown we won’t take a step inside. This sounds quite radical, but we are radical about not smoking. It’s not too much to ask to go downstairs or on the balcony to smoke.

  3. Pingback: The beauty of Niuji village | The Mandarin Duck

  4. Pingback: The beauty of Niuji village - The Mandarin Duck Blog

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