China Is Finally Getting Tough On Smoking

In a striking case for country of 350 million smokers, a man in the southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chongqing was jailed for five days for smoking in a wholesale market, according to local newspaper the Chongqing Evening News.

The man, who was only identified by his surname, Zhao, was shipped off to the local police station by firefighters on Saturday after he was discovered puffing on a cigarette in an emergency stairwell at the wholesale market, one of the city’s biggest. Originally from Hubei province, Zhao had travelled to Chongqing a few days earlier to visit his son, who runs a shop at the market (report in Chinese here).

Chinese language media report that Zhao, 56, is the first person to be detained for smoking in public in Chongqing since China’s new fire-control regulations came into effect May 1. Under the regulations, anyone who smokes or lights an open flame in a hazardous situation can be subject to up to five days detention. But others have reportedly been detained elsewhere in China. On Aug. 2, two men in the northeast city of Anshan were detained for three days for smoking in a local supermarket and refusing to follow orders from fire officials to stop. In May, a man from Zhuzhou city in Hunan province was subject to 10 days detention for smoking and disorderly conduct towards police.

A local fire-department official quoted by Chinese media said Zhao’s detention was part of a broader fire-prevention campaign. Officials said the Public Security Bureau issued a plan of action for the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party’s assumption of power on Oct. 1, stating that “all persons who smoke in places with risks of fire or explosion must be detained for five days.”

“There are no-smoking signs everywhere in the market, but he still chose to smoke,” said a fire official, “which makes it a serious case.”

Some, including Zhao’s son, believe the punishment was too harsh. Public opinion appears to be nearly split, according to an unscientific poll on Chinese Web portal of the 7,366 respondents who chose to respond, more than 50% so far agree with the statement that “the punishment is too harsh given that no serious damage was caused by the smoker,” while 46% said they supported the local fire department.

The incident appears to have already had a lasting impact on at least one person. “I will never smoke in markets again,” Zhao said, according to local media, adding that he planned to quit smoking altogether.

31 Aug, 2009 Wsj

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