Beijing might be famous for many things, like Peking Duck, the Forbidden City, and Great Wall of China nearby, but clean air is not one of them. In fact, if anything, air pollution is probably one of the city's achilles heels, especially as the eve of the Olympics draws nearer.
Although the emissions from cars and factories remain a cause for concern, and more stringent regulations leading up to the Games, the city is also targeting a different type of smoke: tobacco.
With over 380 million smokers, comprising a third of the total smokers worldwide, it's not uncommon to have puffs of smoke blown in your face when you're in a crowded street, or restaurants without non-smoking sections.
As early as 2006, the Beijing government announced that its Olympics would be smoke-free, meaning that smoking in public places would be increasingly restricted. Last October Beijing banned taxi drivers from smoking, and by the end of 2007 hospitals were also non-smoking.
Smoke-free restaurants or bars were almost an anomaly in China, with Beijing's first non-smoking restaurant, Meizhou Dongpo, opening only last October. By May 31st, however, the "Provisions to Ban Public Smoking Law" will go into effect, requiring restaurants to have clearly marked, ventilated smoking and non-smoking sections. Even hotel lobbies and train stations will have to be smoke free.
While the organizers have noble intentions, the fines for violating the smoking policy are only about $7 USD, and with a healthy tax revenue from cigarettes, it's doubtful that cigarette sales will slow down any time soon. On the other hand, for the hundreds of millions in China's non-smoking population, the new regulations come as a welcome breath of fresh air.