Well Being

5 Seriously Disturbing Facts About the Smoking Scene In China

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If you're smoking in a public space in China right now (bar, restaurant, hospital waiting room, domestic flight, hotel lobby, etc.), then you're breaking the law. But then again, if you're smoking in a public space in China right now, you probably won't get into much trouble, even though the country's new smoking-in-public-places ban legally went into effect two days ago. (Oh, and you can still smoke at work. Yay!) The reason you'll get away with lighting up at your leisure? The punishment for violators is nominal and negligible: Sure, maybe a restaurant or bar will get fined $5,000 or less for letting its patrons puff for pleasure. But first, that law would need to be enforced by someone. Which, by any and all accounts I've read, it's not, and may never be. And so far, there aren't any penalties for individuals who break the new law. WTF, China? Where the hell are all your standard draconian consequences?

Now, I have no desire to deprive Chinese citizens of any of their individual human rights, including their right to smoke if they so choose. (Historically, China has infringed upon its citizens' rights all too effectively on its own.) But if this country is going to make a weak, half-baked attempt to ban smoking in public places (even just to appease the World Health Organization), then it really should impose some realistic penalties and consequences on those businesses and venues that violate the law. Not to make the lives of ordinary Chinese people miserable and difficult by denying them this one little vice, but maybe, just maybe, to save even a few hundred thousand of its citizens' lives. And don't worry, Chinese government, you won't lose a yuan, and you'll make even more on the side by arbitrarily collecting fines from businesses once in a while. (That was a joke. I don't want the Chinese government to arbitrarily fine people, even though it probably will.)

The worst part about this situation is that, pretty much any way you look at it, it's a no-win situation for the Chinese people. Worst case scenario is that they get to continue to smoke as much as they want; their government makes tons of money directly off them and their chronic habit; and they die prematurely of terrible, preventable, smoking-related diseases. Best case scenario? Their government actually makes a half-hearted attempt to pretend to care about them and makes it more difficult for them to smoke as much or as regularly; the Chinese smokers are a little grumpier; but maybe they live slightly longer.

And if by chance you think that the new partial smoking ban sham in China doesn't matter much one way or the other, check out these five disturbing facts about the current smoking hot (read: deadly) scene in China:

1. There are at least 300 million habitual smokers in China. Or, put another way, imagine if every single American citizen/resident were a lifelong smoker. This is insane. I can almost smell the secondhand smoke from here.

2. Just 20% of Chinese adults believe that cigaratte smoking actually causes cancer or other serious health-related illnesses. Which obviously means that 80% of Chinese citizens don't think that smoking is bad for their health. Now, Chinese people are smart, so I find this statistic to be particularly astounding and deeply troubling. Perhaps they've been listening to a bit too much of their government's propaganda?

3. Almost half of all doctors in China are chronic smokers, according to a report on The Huffington Post. Unreal. My parents once had a primary care doctor who was grossly overweight for no good reason, and I kept encouraging them to kick him to the curb. The Chinese people couldn't really do that, because then they'd basically have no more doctors. This deeply-ingrained epidemic may actually make the healthcare system in the United States look fairly functional.

4. China's National Tobacco Corporation is owned by the Chinese government, according to a post on NTD Television's website. Which means that the government directly and generously profits from the sale of and taxes on every single pack and carton of cigarettes sold in the country. Now, we know how powerful the Big Tobacco lobby is in the United States; it's hard to imagine what would happen if the Chinese government were your direct boss. Or rather, it's not that hard to imagine. And who says Communists don't love capitalism?

5. One million Chinese people die every year of smoking-related diseases. (And another 100,000 or so kick the bucket from secondhand-smoke-related illnesses!) Need I say more? Okay, I need. Considering how overweight and obese the U.S. population is, our government certainly isn't the finest health-related example for other countries to follow, but seriously China: Quit it.

photo: Thinkstock