BEIJING — China’s capital city imposed a tough new smoking ban Monday, threatening to name and shame repeat offenders and levying fines 20 times higher than existing penalties.
More than 1 million deaths are linked to smoking in China each year, according to the World Health Organization. The country is both the world's biggest tobacco producer and consumer.
The ban will see smoking outlawed in public places, including offices, restaurants and public transport, with offenders having to pay fines of up to 200 yuan ($32). Under a seldom-enforced law passed in 2011, the previous fine was 10 yuan ($1.60).
Dr. Angela Pratt, a WHO technical officer based in Beijing, told NBC News that the ban was "certainly up there among the strongest smoke-free laws" in the world.
Anyone caught breaking the law three times will be named and shamed on a government website, according to the Xinhua state-run news agency.
The city government deployed 1,000 inspectors and by mid-morning used social media to advertise a major coup: cigarette ashes found in the men’s room of a large restaurant chain.
"Yes, it’s true," Haidilao Restaurant worker Qiao Dandan said, confirming the incident to NBC News. "We now observe the three no’s — no ashtrays, no cigarette lighters, no matches," she added with a pained look, without specifying the fines the restaurant and offender will pay.
The 24-branch chain, which is popular for its Mongolian hot pot, could face fines from $320 to $1,600 under the new law.
More than 300 million of China’s 1.35 billion population are smokers. Almost a third of adults and more than half of adult men count themselves regular tobacco users, according to figures from the WHO.
Of these, some 3,000 people in China die from tobacco-related illness every day. And even among those who don't smoke, more than 100,000 people die from second-hand smoke in the country each year, the WHO says.
The ban comes a day after World No-Tobacco Day, which was organized by the WHO in 1987, and on the same day as International Children’s Day.
"What a wonderful gift you are giving to the people of Beijing — the gift of clean air indoors," WHO regional director Dr. Shin Young-soo said in a statement.
"And what a wonderful gift you are giving to the children of Beijing, on International Children’s Day: the gift of air free from second-hand smoke, the gift of health."
However, not everyone is a fan of the ban.
“I don’t support the rule, if the country really wants to ban smoking, they should either ban cigarette making or raise the price of cigarette,” said Mr, Liu, a smoker and a vendor outside a shopping mall.
Alexander Smith reported from London.