A new ban on smoking in most public places in Beijing went into effect today, and while it will be difficult to enforce, it will change public perceptions in the city that probably has the second greatest number of smokers in the world, after Shanghai. The new law bans smoking in commercial buildings and almost anywhere a smoker might be seen. Violators are subject to a $32 fine, with much higher fines for businesses that permit smoking inside a building. It is the latter measure that may ultimately be effective in ending the practice of smoking in schools and restaurants.
The new smoking ban could change the cultural view of smoking just enough to allow the further measures that could be broadly effective at getting people to smoke less. One reform that is desperately needed is an increase in the cigarette tax. A pack of cigarettes can cost about $1 in China, and a tax increase that sent the price up to $2 would make an obvious difference. However, tax increases cannot be enforced without a crackdown on counterfeiting and smuggling, and that degree of reform will be possible in China only after a change in smoking culture.