Edward Falzon: Is smoking hurting tourism in China?

Edward Falzon: Is smoking hurting tourism in China?

As long as people keep flouting laws and lighting up, tourism in Shanghai and other locations will be hampered

I got into a Shanghai taxi the other day -- that is to say that I tried to get into a taxi, but when I opened the door, I was greeted with an unholy waft of poisonous gas emitting from the driver's nose, mouth and possibly other orifices.

He was smoking -- with the windows up, no less -- as he pulled over. Never mind the three or four non-smoking signs inside the cabin. Never mind the laws passed to ensure the health and comfort of his customers, if not himself. No, he needs his drug fix.

I just slammed the door and kept walking.

A couple of minutes later I waved another cab down and, oh, look, the driver's puffing on a cigarette.

The third taxi was clear and we started off to my destination. Two minutes into the journey, though, he sparked up.

I got out at the next red light and kept walking as he yelled after me. I don't speak Mandarin, but I imagine it was something like, “Hey, it's my right to slowly kill myself and those around me, you stupid laowai. Gimme my 14 kuai.”

Smokers need to butt out

This is simply unacceptable, and aside from being an incredibly inefficient and expensive way to kill oneself and downright rude to those around you during your slow ritual of suicide, it's actually against the law to smoke in taxis, bars and restaurants in Shanghai.

Fun fact: Shanghai issued a blanket ban on smoking in public in March 2010, and again in May 2011. But the legislators neglected to define any penalties for non-compliance, nor did they design any enforcement procedures. So the law has about as much teeth as standing on the street saying, “smoking hurts my feelings.”

China is already the world’s largest cigarette producer and consumer. According to Qilu Evening News, the country produces more than 100 billion packs of cigarettes every year and is home to more than 300 million smokers (22 percent of the population). 

Doing the math, that is 740 million non-smoking Chinese residents breathing in secondhand smoke on a daily basis. An estimated 1.2 million Chinese people die from smoking-related diseases each year.

Does anyone on the planet still think that smoking is not really, really bad for you? Need I enter into a lengthy-but-oddly-entertaining monologue about the multitudinous health effects that deliberate inhalation of cyanide, arsenic and formaldehyde will cause?

More on CNNGo: China tries to ban indoor smoking (again)

For all you smokers out there, let me give you a hypothetical situation.

You're in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and the executive chef is describing his specialty Christmas ham: “We use only the purest carbon-monoxide to smoke our ham, which we glaze with sugar and a hint of cyanide, for flavor. Then we sprinkle a secret blend of highly addictive chemicals, to ensure you return to my restaurant soon.”

Go on. Tell me this is appealing.

This is a cigarette, except you don't get the ham. If any part of that chef's dish would be a deal-breaker for you in a fine-dining restaurant, it should be a deal-breaker for you everywhere else.

Shanghai smokingAlthough officially prohibited, smoking in public is a common sight in Shanghai.

Smoking harms tourism

But everything's about profits, so I decided to look into what might happen to tourism if Shanghai actually made an effort to enforce the current laws.

It didn't take long to find some credible information.

Obviously, tobacco companies continue to do an excellent job worldwide in convincing people that banning smoking will damage tourism, but the reality is the precise opposite.

In 1999, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “smoke-free ordinances do not appear to adversely affect, and may increase, tourist business.”

The American Journal of Respiratory Care Medicine noted in 2007 that in Dublin, after the usual protests surrounding proposed smoking bans, found that “employment in the hospitality sector has increased again after an initial drop and that tourism has also increased despite the predictions before the ban.”

More on CNNGo: Smoking is good... for China's infrastructure

The list goes on and on, but the knock-out punch comes from a 2003 meta-study (a study of all the other studies) from the U.S. National Institute of Health which concluded: “All of the best designed studies report no impact or a positive impact of smoke-free restaurant and bar laws on sales or employment.

“Policymakers can act to protect workers and patrons from the toxins in secondhand smoke confident in rejecting industry claims that there will be an adverse economic impact.”

Shanghai needs to take serious actions

But yes, smoking does hurt my feelings. So much so that I won't get in your taxi and I won't eat at your restaurant if there's a smoker nearby. And according to every study done in the world, neither will millions of other people.

How much money are the businesses of Shanghai losing by continuing to allow smoking? 

If Shanghai wants to be international, it has to take its smoking ban as seriously as international cities.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward Falzon.

Edward Falzon is a Shanghai-based author, religious scholar and anti-theist.

Read more about Edward Falzon