Market supervisory authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen fined a store owner 30,000 yuan ($4,400) on Monday for selling cigarettes to a middle school student, China Youth Daily reported Thursday. According to the report, the fine is the first in the country for selling tobacco products to minors.
Selling tobacco products to people aged under 18 has technically been illegal in China for over a decade. A national regulation on child protection that came into effect in June 2007 banned the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors and ordered businesses to display signs stating the policy and demand identification from customers who might be underage. Yet the policy is rarely enforced, and some parents even send their children to the shop to fetch liquor and cigarettes.
China is the largest grower, manufacturer, and consumer of tobacco in the world. The country has over 300 million smokers — nearly a third of the world’s total — and approximately 1 million tobacco-related deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization.
Legislators are becoming more aware of the public health burden of smoking. In recent years, 18 Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have enacted anti-smoking regulations. Measures include banning smoking at indoor venues and on public transport, requiring public officials to set good examples, and restricting tobacco advertising.
Both national and local governments have called for additional efforts to reduce smoking among minors. Official estimates say that around 7 percent of Chinese people aged under 18 are smokers.
In May, Shenzhen launched its “smoke-free city” campaign, which includes a policy of zero tolerance for tobacco sales to minors. According to a government report from March, over 90 percent of primary and middle schools in the city have a tobacco sale point within 100 meters, and over 70 percent of underage smokers say they have never been refused by vendors in the city.
As part of the city’s efforts to control the availability of tobacco near schools, several pilot locations were selected for undercover investigations, including Pingshan District’s Longxiang Middle School, near the shop that was fined.
After class on June 27, a male student came to the store to buy cigarettes, but the salesperson did not ask his age. The incident was captured in a video recorded by an investigator, and the district market supervisory authority later identified the student as a middle school freshman — typically 12 or 13 years old — and issued the fine.
Apart from the fine, the store owner was instructed to warn all staff not to sell tobacco products to minors. The shop was also asked to use video surveillance: If a student tries to buy tobacco, the shopkeeper must notify the school and show them the footage so teachers can identify, educate, and discipline the student accordingly.
“Because of curiosity and peer [pressure], the more easily students can get tobacco, the more easily they will develop a smoking habit later on,” local official Xiong Jingfan told China Youth Daily. “If we don’t have a smoke-free environment, it will harm the development of minors.”
Although laws ban the sale of tobacco to minors, electronic cigarettes are not included in the national regulations. Shenzhen is the largest manufacturer of e-cigarettes in the world, and as a result, many types of e-cigarettes are readily available to young students. At last year’s Two Sessions political meetings, a delegate from Guangdong — the province where Shenzhen is located — appealed for legislation to cover the supervision and management of e-cigarettes, including sales to minors.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
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