The mountains are high and the emperor is far away (山高皇帝远). It is always a little fun when Kunming shows just how far removed it really is from Beijing. While in no way openly rebellious or willfully truculent, Yunnan's capital, and by extension the province itself, often seems to march to a slightly different and slower drumbeat. The most recent example of this contrast is currently playing itself out over the issue of smoking.
Beijing is setting itself up to have the most stringent anti-tobacco laws in the country, reportedly set to ban smoking indoors entirely and forbid radio, television and film ads for tobacco from running in China's capital beginning in June 2015. Fines for violations of the new edicts are also set to jump dramatically, from the current ten yuan to a proposed 200 next summer.
The reforms in Beijing may be a litmus test for the country as a whole — a reboot of the woefully unenforced 2011 national ban on public smoking writ small. If sweeping reforms can be properly regulated in the nation's capital, perhaps the rest of the country will follow suit — or so goes the thinking. It may take Yunnan and the Spring City a long time to catch up.
In Kunming, taxi drivers still smoke in their cabs, managers at the vast majority of restaurants and bars make no attempt to discourage customers from lighting up and even in hospitals, people puff away with impunity, often out of meter-tall bongs. Cigarettes and smoking are a part of Yunnan's culture, perhaps more-so than anywhere else in China because the province was and is so dependent on farming tobacco as a cash crop.
Change does appear to be coming. Reform to tobacco statutes may be slow in developing — almost comically glacial when compared to what is happening in Beijing — but such considerations are now being discussed, albeit on a very small scale. At a public hearing held December 10 by the Landscaping Bureau of Chenggong, government officials and citizens discussed the pros and cons of a proposal that would outlaw smoking in all of Kunming's public parks.
Chief among the topics examined were whether cigarettes should be banned entirely, or instead, smokers relegated to prescribed areas within the city's seven major green areas. Fines were also discussed, although park management officials were skeptical that proposed 200 yuan penalties for those caught smoking would go over well with "people who have come to the parks to play majiang and smoke for the past 30 or 40 years."
Other suggestions addressed attempting to change Kunming's culture of smoking rather than trying to fine it out of existence. Parks, said these proponents, should contain billboards extolling the virtues of not smoking while highlighting health dangers and environmental concerns such as forest fires.
None of the recommendations made during the Wednesday meeting were binding. Instead, the discussion was held as an open platform for public input as park officials take baby steps toward a policy they must know will anger many Kunming residents. Despite such fears, Kunming may have to adjust sooner rather than later as Beijing is also mulling stiff new taxes on tobacco products that would effect all of China — a reality Kunming will not be able to embrace in its typical slow and plodding way.
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