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“A smoke after dinner is better than life after death.”

China, whose citizens account for one-third of smokers in the world, banned smoking in most public places. The law took effect yesterday, but most citizens and shopkeepers had not heard of it until then.

One problem with enforcing the new ban is smoking is an integral part of Chinese culture. Most business transactions finish with the exchange of expensive tobacco, many sunny afternoons are spent smoking on café patios, and giving someone a cigarette is viewed as a great way to break the ice.

Smoking is a characteristic of the famous and powerful. Chairman Mao, for example, was a heavy smoker, and Chinese celebrities and athletes are commonly seen smoking.

China is the world's largest producer of tobacco. Cigarette sales and production taxes totaled $75 billion in 2009. Some regions, like the Yunnan Province depend on the industry, with 45 percent of its revenue coming from tobacco.

There are 300 million people who smoke in China, and the habit causes about 1.2 million deaths each year. Studies show the Chinese have a low awareness of the health risks of smoking and secondhand smoke. About half of health care workers smoke.


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