Somewhere between 50 to 60 percent of adult males in China smoke, whereas only about 2 to 3 percent of adult women smoke. Chinese men pretty much smoke wherever they please. Chinese men smoke in bathrooms, restaurants, hotel rooms and lobbies, stairwells, hallways, offices, elevators, taxis, and even hospitals. As far as outdoor places are concerned, there is always a Chinese guy smoking somewhere nearby.
In everyday life, it’s virtually impossible to escape exposure to cigarette smoke in China. It’s disgusting and incredibly unhealthy. Given the level of air pollution in China, you’d have to be pretty foolish to add smoking to your daily routine.
The only places I’d seen a no smoking ban strictly enforced in China were on the high-speed rail and on airplanes. It’s not the case that no smoking rules don’t exist in other places; it’s just that no smoking rules are not abided by nor enforced.
Smoking is a firmly entrenched part of male culture in China. Smoking is often a part of social interactions between Chinese men, as a form of greeting and hospitality. Smoking is also common in interactions between Chinese businessmen. When Chinese businessmen get together, smoking usually takes place. In fact, it would be considered bad etiquette for a Chinaman to turn down a cigarette offered by a fellow businessman. Such is the unfortunate mentality among men in China. Blech.
In America, the percentage of male smokers is less than half that in China. However, the percentage of female smokers is about six times that of their Chinese counterparts. That’s pretty sad. The biggest difference between America and China when it comes to smoking are the bans and their enforcement.
Most states in America have no smoking bans in place. No smoking bans in America are usually enforced. It’s easy to find non-smoking hotel rooms in America. It’s also easy to find a smoke free restaurant. In China, it’s pretty much impossible to find a smoke free restaurant and difficult to find a genuine non-smoking hotel room.
Beijing recently toughened its stance on public smoking by greatly increasing fines and hiring more enforcement officials. It will be interesting to see if this strategy works in Beijing. In a country with over 300 million smokers and a citizenry used to ignoring the rules, change will not come quickly or easily.
This post is part of a series of posts about the differences between China and America.