Red China is a totalitarian state that exercises absolute control over its citizens’ lives. Of late China wants to put a benign face on dictatorship.
After years of brilliant expertise in the making and selling of an astonishing array of products at reasonable prices the China brand is better known for its mercantile efficiency than for jailing dissidents and conducting staged elections. The country’s public relations blitz reaches its climax as the Olympics unfold in Beijing this summer. Nothing must derail China’s triumphant proclamation to the world that it is efficient, "world class," and by all means modern.

Recent events in occupied Tibet, however, threaten to remind the world that the Chinese government is not a paragon of liberality and enlightenment. Cracking down on Tibetans longing to cast off the shackles of their Chinese masters doesn’t bring to mind the happy face image the government has worked so hard to cultivate. How best to neutralize the negativity?

Pass a smoking ban, of course! Beijing has done just that as an effort "to improve the city." All public venues will be affected as the Chinese pledge a smoke-free Olympics. Well, that certainly makes up for subjugating a neighboring country and conducting a decades-long campaign of destroying Tibetan identity and culture. Like the sinful potentates of Renaissance Europe buying indulgences from the corrupt Roman Catholic Church, dictators now can buy their way to international respectability by banning smoking. China has arrived.

Reality, of course, trumps even the most ardent visions of a "smoke-free" Beijing. As Reuters reports (stored version), the government issued orders last year to eliminate smoking in taxi cabs but resistance (non-compliance) has been fierce. The authorities had some time ago suggested that restaurants set up smoking bans but the lone Beijing restaurant chain that followed suit went bust in very short order. It is doubtful that more than a handful of high-end restaurants close to the Olympic stadium will really prevent a diner from lighting up. Perception, just as it is with anti-tobacco, is reality in a totalitarian state.

An interesting postscript to this article enumerates the death toll of Chinese due to smoking: one million per year, in a country where 350 million smoke. In the United States the statistics indicate up to 450,000 Americans are done in by tobacco, half a million of the 50,000 "deaths" due to secondhand smoke are added in. Officially the total number of American who smoke hovers around 40 million. On a percentage basis, according to this factoid, three times as many Americans drop dead from smoking as do the Chinese, despite the undeniable fact that America is a far richer country with a more encompassing health system. Either the Chinese are genetically stronger than Americans or American smokes are far deadlier than Chinese cigarettes. All tobacco death toll statistics as well as tallies of smokers are, of course, made up, but it’s always fun to catch anti-tobacco propagandists in logical errors.



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