Posted: Monday May 29, 2006 3:44PM; Updated: Monday May 29, 2006 3:44PM
BEIJING (Reuters) -- China vowed on Monday to organise a "non-smoking" Olympic Games, but health officials admitted that changing the habits of 350 million smokers would be difficult.
China would enforce a ban on smoking in public places, a Health Ministry official told a news conference on Monday, with those places that offer services to children a top concern.
"Smoking will be banned at all Olympic-designated hospitals by the end of 2007," Xinhua news agency quoted Zhang Bin as saying.
The ban would also apply to public transport and in offices, Zhang said, acknowledging that changing habits would be hard.
"China faces many obstacles to overcome in hosting a non-smoking Olympics," he said.
The ministry's vow comes as Beijing passes the 10th anniversary of its ban on smoking in public places.
In practice, many of the capital's millions of smokers habitually ignore the bans given that they run only a slight risk of punishment or complaint from bystanders.
"We need consistent efforts to wake up the public, tell those smokers in public places that they are damaging the health of people around them, and encourage our numb fellows to stand up against such behavior," a China Daily editorial said this month.
China is the world's largest producer and consumer of cigarettes with nearly 2 trillion sticks consumed a year.
Tax on cigarettes contributed 159 billion yuan ($19.8 billion) to the government in 2005, around 5 percent of fiscal revenues.
The World Health Organization estimates that smoking kills 1.2 million people a year in China.