China says Communist Party leaders must not smoke in public, help colleagues quit

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In this photo taken Sunday, March 4, 2012, a man smokes as he walks with other delegates attending a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. China has banned its officials from smoking in public to set an example to the rest of the country that has the world's largest number of smokers. China's state media said Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 that officials are not allowed to smoke in schools, hospitals, sports venues, on public transport or any other places where smoking is banned, or to smoke or offer cigarettes when performing official duties. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING (Reuters) - Communist Party officials must not smoke in public places or buy cigarettes using public funds, and should encourage their colleagues to quit smoking, a top Chinese government body said in a circular on Sunday evening.

China is the world's largest tobacco consumer. Smoking is deeply entrenched in Chinese social life, particularly for men, and luxury cigarettes are frequently given as gifts.

Beijing pledged in 2008 to ban smoking in most public venues, including government offices, but enforcement has remained lax and no-smoking signs are frequently ignored.

"The phenomenon of smoking in public places remains prevalent, especially for a small number of leading cadres, who not only endanger the public health and environment, but also harm the image of the Communist Party and the government," says the circular issued by the State Council, China's cabinet.

Party cadres must not buy tobacco using public funds, and those who break rules on cigarettes should be "criticized and educated about their evil influence," the circular says. Leaders at all levels should deal with rule-breakers severely, it added, without detailing specific punishments.

Communist Party cadres should to "take the lead" in kicking their smoking habits to set an example for the public and party bosses should encourage colleagues to quit smoking, it said.

It was also forbidden for government and party organs to provide tobacco or advertise cigarettes internally, and smoking should be prohibited in offices, meeting rooms, restrooms and cafeterias.

An official in the tobacco control office for the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said at a press conference earlier this month that lawmakers will weigh a nationwide ban on smoking in public places next year.

Several major cities have implemented smoking bans in public places, but anti-smoking advocates both inside and outside the country say those bans have not been well enforced.

In a separate announcement, the State Council said those who smoke on high-speed trains can be fined up to 2000 yuan ($329.80), starting in January.

(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan, additional reporting by Huang Yan; Editing by Michael Perry)