Smoking indoors is banned in Zhong Plaza, home to Logan's Punch, el Ocho, Tomatito, Starling, and more. We talked to the venues and are some are saying the ban is specific to Jing'an, but other bars and restaurants in the district still allow cigarette smoking. What's the deal with that? Meanwhile, there's also been rumors of a big crackdown on public smoking. So what's really going on here? Is smoking in bars and restaurants coming to an end in Shanghai?
In Reality Check, we find out.
Well... at least we can tell you what the situation is and what it might become.
According to lawyer Natalie Yu at Shanghai Li Yan Law Firm, the Regulations of Shanghai Municipality on Smoking Control in Public Places (effective since March of 2010) bans smoking in nearly all indoor places. Venues that permit smoking when they aren't supposed to face fines of up to 30,000rmb for each infraction. Individuals breaking the law get fined between 50-200rmb. However there are some venues that can have designated smoking areas. This includes hotels and airports, as well as restaurants, bars, and clubs.
The law doesn't explicitly state that restaurants and bars must have a non-smoking area, nor does it have limits on the size of the "designated smoking area". The wording is vague, allowing, it would seem, for bars and restaurants to decide as they like on how smoking is conducted in their venues. Anyone who has spent even a little bit of time in this city knows that venue management all over Shanghai tends to designate the entire premises of their establishments as the "smoking area".
So what's happening at Zhong Plaza? It could be that the landlord is preparing for the upcoming changes in smoking laws. The smoking law is currently under review and a new smoking ban in all indoor venues, including bars and restaurants seems immanent. It's unclear when the new amendments will come into effect, but some point to later this year.
The upcoming changes in Shanghai smoking laws are purportedly to bring the city in line with the current regulations already in place in Shenzhen and Beijing, which have the strongest anti-smoking laws in the country. As of June of 2015, Beijing banned smoking in all restaurants, clubs, shopping centers, public transport, offices, and public areas, employing thousands of inspectors to enforce the new regulations.
Of course, as was the case in Beijing, and will be the case in Shanghai, it becomes the question of actually enforcing the regulations. For China's capital, at least at the outset of the new laws, the tide appeared to be turning. Numerous examples popped up in local and international media in which inspectors actively fined restaurants, KTVs, and other F&B establishments, and a huge portion of the F&B industry changed to, and enforced, a new policy to ban smoking in their establishments. According to Foreign Policy, the ban in Beijing was "actually sort of working".
A year later in Beijing, our anecdotal evidence is thus: Nearly all expat oriented restaurants have banned smoking inside their venues and actively enforce the rule. Smoking in expat restaurants is probably over 90 percent stamped out. Bars and clubs, of course, are sort of 50-50. A lot of the expat pubs enforce the ban, whereas a lot more nightclubs and local dives sneak under the radar and still even offer ashtrays for their patrons. Chinese restaurants are a mixed bag as well. Some look the other way if you smoke and some will tell you to butt it out. A lot of business owners see the smoking ban as bad for business and will let their customers smoke if they think they can get away with it, which is very often the case. Personally, we haven't heard of the thousands of inspectors busting anyone in a while. Feels like the Eye of Sauron has shifted its gaze to other matters.
Anti-smoking signs on Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium, circa 2015
TL;DR: The situation is better in Beijing for non-smokers who like to eat out than Shanghai definitely, but the problem is by no means a thing of the past. We'll have to wait and see how seriously Shanghai enforces their new rules. From the Shanghai Daily piece:
"Under proposals detailed earlier this year, the restriction on smoking indoors will be extended to all public venues, workplaces and public transport facilities, while selected outdoor venues, including parks, tourism spots, hospital grounds and places where children congregate, will be added to the list of restricted areas...
The stricter rules are expected to come into force before the city hosts the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion — an event co-organized by the World Health Organization — in November."
In any case, for the time being, you won't have to worry about getting fined for smoking in restaurants or bars when and where they allow it, even if you're in Jing'an.