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Vital Stories

The Evolution of a Smoke Free Beijing

Tobacco control in China has reached a watershed moment, with Beijing: it is now illegal to smoke in all indoor public places, workplaces and public transportation.

The new smoking law already has impressive compliance – over 81% in medical facilities and schools. 83.9% of people surveyed are aware of the regulation and nearly 9,000 venues have been inspected to ensure they’re enforcing the ban.

In a country that has far more smokers than any other in the world – 301 million – it has been a long journey to get to this point.

Vital Strategies has provided technical assistance every step of the way, with our expertise in global tobacco control and with media campaigns.

This historic moment gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we started in 2008 and where we are now with the implementation of Beijing’s smoke-free legislation.

“Smile”: A gentle ask not to smoke around others

The first campaign we assisted with was during the 2008 Olympic Games. With limited and voluntary smoking bans in Beijing, the “Smile” campaign, which ran nationally, focused on peer pressure, portraying smoking as socially unacceptable around children and friends.<

From a marketing perspective – “Smile” – is cotton candy: light, fun, easy to consume. It matched tobacco control attitudes in China at the time: an attempt to not upset smokers or regulate their behavior. Instead the emphasis was on the polite virtues of not smoking.

Despite its soft approach, “Smile” was a significant step forward in political commitment. It was one of the first mass media campaigns in China that showed secondhand smoke is against the public good, and even harmful.

“Smoke Free Beijing”: Health as the drive for an enforced policy

Now, after years of advocacy, the government has introduced a strong law that bans tobacco from workplaces, transportation, restaurants and bars. The new legislation meets the gold standard of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the global anti-tobacco public health treaty.

And the campaign running now reflects this new attitude. Unlike “Smile’s” polite approach, it shows children as victims and uses language that makes it clear smoking indoors is not optional – it is the law.