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Beijing smoking ban in public areas go into effect

BEIJING -- Beijing’s battle to ban smoking in most public areas began in earnest Thursday as part of the government’s commitment to hold a smoke-free Olympics.

The measures, which took effect May 1, completely ban smoking in schools, hospitals and government offices, as well as at all Olympic venues including indoor and outdoor stadiums. Hotels, restaurants and bars face a partial ban, with smoking and no-smoking areas required.

China has an estimated 350 million smokers — a quarter of the country’s population and nearly a third of the total number of smokers in the world.

According to Ministry of Health figures, about 1 million people die each year from smoking-related diseases in China.

Beijing’s city government began smoking restrictions in 1995 but expanded them this year to additional public areas, including fitness centers, cultural sites and government offices. More problematic will be enforcement of the rules. Individual violators will be fined only 10 yuan (US$1.40; euro0.90) while enterprises and institutions that violate the ban face fines of 1,000 yuan to 5,000 yuan (US$142-US$714; euro92-euro460).

Chinese officials have said enforcement powers will be limited to 2,000 inspectors.

Another 60,000 people have already been assigned to educate people about the dangers of smoking.

The smoking restrictions are part of a commitment officials made for a smoke-free Olympics.

The smoking ban is also among a series of initiatives designed to improve public behavior before the Olympics. China’s Communist Party, hoping to create a positive image for the country, has promoted civility campaigns to teach citizens to line up, stop spitting, stop littering and improve driving habits.

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