A Half-Hearted Smoking Ban

By: Anita Cheng

Having traveled to China before, I was excited to see the BBC article titled “China ban on smoking in public places comes into force”. While my trip to Beijing in 2008 was filled with amazing historical sights and sounds of my native culture, it was also permeated by clouds of second hand smoke. Looking forward to another trip to the city this summer, I was relieved to see that I may no longer need to hold my breath in restaurants, railway stations, and other public venues. Further examination of the article brought about disappointing news, however. In fact, this smoking ban can be more accurately labeled as “recommendation” because there are no punishments if anyone or any business violates or ignores this rule. In offices, “employers will be obliged to warn staff of the dangers of smoking but not forbid them from lighting up at their desks”.

Using the Catholic Social Teaching framework, I can argue that an injustice is being committed against non-smokers who are being subjected to second-hand smoke. Catholic Social Teaching describes the state’s main role as protection of the rights of its people. If a right to health as a dimension of well-being is recognized, then the Chinese government has not fulfilled its role. Upon initial examination, I was confused as to the motivation behind this ban because the government was not planning on actually enforcing it. Further investigation revealed a possible answer to my query and a deeper injustice.

First of all, the article reported that the majority of China’s population is actually unaware of the toxins contained in cigarettes and second-hand smoke. My reaction was criticism of the government’s public health department’s inability to educate its people on this information. With the article’s disclosure that all of the tobacco products produced and sold in China were through state-owned firms and that sales are a generous source of revenue for the government, I could infer an explanation to my previous questions and criticisms. Catholic Social Teaching instructs that “free market forces must be tempered by moral considerations”. In addition to failure in protecting the right to health for its people, the Chinese government is profiting at the expense of its people’s – both smokers and nonsmokers – health. These actions are deemed social injustices with analysis through the Catholic Social Teaching lens. While identification of the problem is vital to the process of justice, an even more urgent question that must be answered is how public health practitioners should respond. With the country’s highest authority as the main culprit, how can institutional change be effectively implemented?

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One response to “A Half-Hearted Smoking Ban

  1. Laura

    Like Anita, I have also had the opportunity to visit China on two separate occasions. Although I traveled to many rural areas, most of my time was spent in the larger cities of Beijing and Xian. I remember the only complaint I had from my entire trip was that there was an exceptional amount of smoking allowed inside restaurants, outside, and in the home. There were no separation of Smoking and Non-smoking in public restaurants and this lead to an unavoidable experience of smoke during every meal. I find Anita’s reflection on the smoking “ban” an example of an half-hearted attempt to solve a significant issue. By lawfully implementing a ban on smoking but not reinforcing it with punishment will have minimal effect at most. In my opinion it is a was a waste of time to design and implement a plan that does not truly change anything.

    Secondly, I would like to take this idea of smoking during or at work and apply it to the United States. I often wonder when I go into a job interview why they ask me if I smoke. What relevance does a personal choice such as smoking have on my qualifications for a job? Well, after talking with my dad about the subject he informed me that during interviews for his company he ALWAYS wants to know whether or not his employees are smokers. The reason he says, is that a smoker on average will take a smoking break every hour. Since most buildings are a non-smoking area, employees who wish to smoke will be away from their desk for at least 15-20 minutes/break since they must budget the time it take to walk the length of the building to the elevator and down 45 floors. Ultimately, this leads to decreased productivity for the company if out of a 8 hour work day, an individual who smokes will only be in the office for 7 hours/day. Thus, when considering a candidate, my it is possible for companies to take into consideration whether or not a person smokes. But the big question is Is this a form of Discrimination? Is smoking really a personal choice after they have become dependent on the Nicotine for focus? Perhaps a smoker may argue that the focus and attention smoking a cigarette each our does for their body allows them to be more productive in that 7 hour period than a non-smoker in an 8 hour period….

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