Smoking Really Is Nearly Inescapable in China

Portraits of cigarette users in hospitals, washing windows, and in front of 'No Smoking' signs.

On the sidewalk, in a hospital, directly in front of a "No Smoking" sign.

Smokers are a nearly inescapable part of life in China, though the government is trying to change that. Earlier this week, China's Ministry of Education banned smoking in public schools. To enforce the rule, schools must now install smoke alarms or surveillance cameras to spot violators. They'll also have to stop selling tobacco products at their canteens, and can't accept sponsorships or ads from cigarette companies. Universities can no longer allow smoking inside academic buildings, though they can maintain designated smoking areas on campus.

It's only the latest in a string of efforts to curb the nation's smoking habit. Though citywide bans are rarely observed or enforced, China also announced plans to ban smoking on all public property nationwide at some point this year.

That'll be a tough sell. China is the world's largest consumer of cigarettes, with an estimated 350 million smokers who light up an average of nearly five times a day.

While health officials say more than 1 million people in China die each year from smoking-related illnesses, the tobacco industry remains strong, paying, according to Reutershundreds of billions of yuan in taxes annually.

Before any nationwide ban takes place, the Communist Party hopes to lead by example. A government circular published last month asked Party officials to not only encourage each other to quit smoking but stated that they should not smoke in public places or buy cigarettes using public money. Anyone who breaks the rules, according to the document, will be"criticized and educated about their evil influence."  

Extinguished cigarettes are seen in an ashtray at the Shanghai Railway Station December 23, 2013. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
A man smokes near the Forbidden City on a heavy haze day in central Beijing January 13, 2013. (REUTERS/Jason Lee) 
A worker smokes while taking a rest at a cinder dump site in Changzhi, Shanxi province June 18, 2009. (REUTERS/Stringer) 
Parents visit their sick child in a hospital in the rural village of Chao Jiang in southwest China's Yunnan province February 28, 2007. (REUTERS/Nir Elias)
A man smokes in front of a "no smoking" sign outside a shopping mall in Shanghai January 10, 2014. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
A window cleaner passes a lighter to his colleague while rappelling from a new building in Tianjin March 23, 2007. (REUTERS/Stringer)
An actor smokes a cigarette among residents on a street before his stilt walk performance for a temple fair celebration in Lishui county of Nanjing city, Jiangsu province April 16, 2012. (REUTERS/Sean Yong)
A farmer smokes as some of the buildings on his property are demolished to make way for the construction of new urban property in Hefei, Anhui province, October 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Stringer)
A migrant labourer uses an acetylene torch to light a cigarette at a construction site in downtown Shanghai October 22, 2009. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
A woman smokes a cigarette as she walks her pet dog on a pedestrian street in downtown Shanghai December 28, 2011. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
A man sells cigarettes at a market in downtown Shanghai April 30, 2011. The sign reads: "50 yuan ($7.70) for a carton. Supplies are available inside. Double Happiness absolutely cheap." (REUTERS/Carlos Barria) 
Doctor Lu Ankang tests a smoking patient with a device to measure his carbon monoxide (CO) level at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai April 27, 2011. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria) 
A visitor dressed as a red army soldier smokes as he poses for a picture in Jinggangshan, Jiangxi province September 20, 2012. Jinggangshan, is where former Chinese leader Mao Zedong's career as a revolutionary began to take off. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria) 
A man wearing a "Mao suit" talks with a group of people dressed in old style army uniforms on Tiananmen Square in Beijing October 12, 2009. (REUTERS/David Gray)
Students pose for pictures with "big cigarette models" during a campaign ahead of the World No Tobacco Day, at a primary school in Handan, Hebei province, May 29, 2013. According to local media, students made the models with waste paper to advocate "No Smoking". (REUTERS/China Daily) 
A vendor selling cabbages gestures to a potential customer as he sits in the back of his truck at an outdoor fruit and vegetable market located on the outskirts of Beijing December 17, 2010. (REUTERS/David Gray)
A vendor selling onions waits for customers at a wholesale market in Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong province September 24, 2007. (REUTERS/Stringer) 
An investor lies down on a bench with a cigarette in his hand in front of an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Wuhan, Hubei province August 22, 2012. (REUTERS/Stringer) 

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