China will risk the wrath of the country's 350 million smokers today by declaring the site of the Beijing Olympics a smoke-free zone .
"It will be applied in all Olympic venues and restaurants," The Telegraph quoted Zhang Jianshu, a city spokesman, as saying.
A sign of the passions the issue can raise has already been seen at the stadiums for next year's games.
Earlier this month, an attempt by security guards to stop construction workers taking a cigarette break in a no smoking zone degenerated into a drunken brawl, with several workers injured.
The decision comes even as The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged China to take comprehensive measures to curtail smoking, as cigarette-related deaths in the country are likely to more than double by 2020.
According to Henk Bekedam, the WHO's representative in China, smoking is "socially and economically devastating" for the country, which is the world's biggest producer of tobacco.
"The death toll from diseases associated with tobacco is about one million Chinese annually, a figure that is expected to increase to 2.2 million per year by 2020 if smoking rates remain unchanged," he said in a statement ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Thursday.
China is responsible for a third of the worlds cigarette manufacturing output and the government rakes in massive profits, as it runs a tobacco monopoly.
"Fighting tobacco is not easy, especially when there is a state monopoly on tobacco production," Bekedam said.
He urged authorities to raise tobacco taxes, ban cigarette advertising and issue stronger warning labels on tobacco products. He also said there should be an increase in smoke-free areas.
The government has banned smoking on public transport but it is still allowed in many public places, including restaurants.
Bekedam added that the 2008 Beijing Olympics were a
"once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to change smokers' behaviour.
The tobacco industry has also fought back. Zhang Baozhen, an industry official who is also a member of the National People's Congress, the parliament, has said that a ban could cause "social instability" - the Chinese leadership's greatest fear. Related medicine news :1
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