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China's health ministry to go tobacco-free

BEIJING, May 10 (Xinhua) -- China's Health Ministry on Monday vowed to ban smoking in all its offices in four months, part of an arduous campaign to curb public smoking around the country.

Yang Qing, director with the ministry's community health department, told reporters that hospitals, clinics and other medical institutes nationwide should follow suit to impose strict smoking ban by 2011.

"No Smoking" signs will be placed in the ministry's conference rooms, lavatories, car parks and stairways while a designated smoking area will be set up outside the office building, the official said.

He said the ministry also bans its employees from giving tobacco as gifts -- a rooted tradition in China's office culture. Employees who break the ban will be punished, while those who quit smoking in a year can expect cash rewards.

Though Yang did not elaborate how hospitals and clinics under the ministry's supervision should go tobacco-free, it is widely believed that similar policies will be imposed soon among the country's medical institutes.

Data from the ministry show China has more than 350 million smokers, mostly men influenced by a macho culture. Doctors with smoking habit have become a prime target of China's tobacco control campaign.

Yang said smoking should be banned in all public venues, workplaces and public transport vehicles by 2011, according to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which took effect in 2005.

It was signed by the Chinese government in 2003 and ratified by the country's top legislature in 2005. National and local governments ramped up anti-smoking campaigns in recent years, but these were not effective as expected because no strict laws are in place, observers said.

Yang said the ministry is now coordinating with the country's lawmakers to push for such legislation.

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