Shenzhen city cracks down on illegal sales of cigarettes to children – after survey reveals 78 percent of minors who smoke say they are never asked for proof of age

Tobacco control enforcement teams in Shenzhen, China, have launched a round of targeted inspections of tobacco vendors near schools to ensure the law prohibiting tobacco sales to children is being upheld. The first round of inspections was carried out covertly by tobacco control enforcement officers accompanied by members of the media between 25 June and 20 July 2018.

An inspection carried out during the first week led to a shop owner being fined 30,000 yuan, US$ 4,800 equivalent, and suffering significant negative publicity after it was reported by media city-wide. The fine was issued after an enforcement officer, accompanied by a journalist, covertly witnessed a child being sold cigarettes by the shop. Since then, the story has been picked up by national press and broadcast on China Central Television.

It has been illegal to sell tobacco to children since 1991, but until now enforcement has been poor because no specific agency was responsible for implementation.

“Shenzhen’s authorities are taking this matter very seriously – and their commitment to protecting and promoting the health of its children is commendable,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. “The fine will encourage shop owners to take their responsibilities seriously. And the negative publicity is a powerful tool for raising awareness about the issue – and ensuring others do not make the same mistake. Nicotine addiction is seriously detrimental for the developing brain. And a life-long addiction to tobacco sets young people up for ill-health and a poor economic outlook.”

As well as upholding the ban on sales to minors, all tobacco outlets are required by law to display health warnings at point-of-sale. Inspectors also issued fines for failure to display the necessary warnings. Enforcement efforts were focused on shops located within 100 metres of schools after a survey of school children in the area revealed that almost 78 percent of those who smoked said they never had problems purchasing cigarettes.

China does not yet have a national tobacco control law, but city level jurisdictions are making some good progress. Shenzhen – with a population of 12 million – is becoming a trailblazer for progressive tobacco control law. It introduced a municipal smoking control law in March 2014, with a grace period for certain types of venue. Since January 2017 100 percent of indoor public places have become smoke-free. Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congress and the Shenzhen government are committed to strong implementation and enforcement of tobacco control law. The Shenzhen Tobacco Control Office, led by the deputy mayor, was commissioned to take charge of all tobacco control enforcement. 

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