In their ongoing attempt to clear the air before the Olympics, Beijing officials have turned their sights to the country's most common kind of smokestack: the cigarette. Today, they instituted a city-wide ban that aims to cut it out in public places. As the above video reminds us, they'll need all the luck they can get.
Like bans on high-emission vehicles, plastic bags, big dogs, and virtually anything, rules don't exactly dictate reality, especially in a place where cigarettes are an essential social lubricant, handed out like after-dinner mints at dinners and celebrations.
Already, the ban has been scaled back from restaurants and bars after owners complained it would cut too severely into business. No wonder: one of every three cigarettes in the world is smoked in China (which contains a fifth of the world's population); in Beijing, it is estimated that almost half the male population smokes. The statistics alone can induce a coughing fit, but they're not nearly as bad as during China's tobacco heyday, between 1970 and 1990.
In 2005, China became a signatory to the World Health Organization’s tobacco control convention, to meet which officials have said China will start a nationwide ban on tobacco ads by 2011. Yet, when a proposal to ban public smoking nationwide was put forward, for the umpteenth time, at the meeting of the National Party Congress in 2007, the deputy chief of the state’s tobacco monopoly indicated just how much sway the cigarette has here. As he told CCTV, "We take very seriously the health dangers of smoking, but not having cigarettes also impacts stability."
Ultimately one of the biggest roadblocks to stubbing out is the government itself. Tobacco is an integral part of the economy, bolstered by a state-owned monopoly and demand that generates about $30 billion in tax revenue every year. Thanks to a deal with Philip Morris, which allows the US company to make Marlboros in China, China's cigarette manufacturers will soon be expanding to overseas markets.