Changing China

Giant on the move

Smoke gets in your eyes

March 28, 2008

An elderly man smokes from a pipe at sidewalk in BeijingIn 2004, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised that the Beijing Olympics would be “smoke-free”.

So far, though, there has been no word on the rules and regulations that will prevent the world’s most enthusiastic smokers from puffing away while watching the Games this August.

There was brief flurry of excitement around the World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day last May when some officials said the policy would be announced, but it never materialised. The rules, to be decided by the Beijing municipal government, are promsied soon.    

Some 320 million Chinese (and a few expat Westerners) draw on nearly 2 trillion cigarettes every year.

The offer and acceptance of cigarettes is a basic tenet of social and business interraction among men.

That is not just the case in rural China, where the men and women still often referred to as “peasants” might be forgiven for being ignorant of the health issues surrounding smoking.  

World and Olympic 110 metres hurdles champion Liu Xiang did promotional work for the Baisha Corporation, which sells 75 billion cigarettes a year.  

A man smokes his cigarette as he walks past a new art display of a glass container with 10,000 cigarettes in XiamenAn executive with one of the top Games’ sponsors told me of a recent visit to the Olympic Tower, the sparkling headquarters of the Beijing organising commitee a couple of miles from the Bird’s Nest Stadium.

She was the only person among 20 or so at the meeting not puffing away, a scene unimaginable these days in large parts of the developed world.

But what is a non-smoking Olympics anyway?

Anyone who hates the very sight (or the merest whiff) of someone slowly killing themselves by cigarette might be disappointed by the laxity of the rules, if the experience of the 2004 Athens Olympics are anything to go by.

Greece has the highest number of smokers per capita in the world but its Games were also supposed to be non-smoking.  But smokers were able to idulge pretty much freely as long as they were not actually sitting in a seat at an Olympic venue. Pictures by Claro Cortes IV (top) and REUTERS/China Daily. 



“So far, though, there has been no word on the rules and regulations … \” They did release a draft law back in January that was open to public comment. More info about the process here –  /2008/01/28/beijing_calls_for_public_co mment_on_draf

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