Officials in the country, which has the largest number of smokers in the world, have been warned not to light up in schools, hospitals, sports venues, on public transport or any other places where smoking is banned.
They are also banned from smoking or offering cigarettes anywhere when performing official duties.
The edict, which comes from the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party and government, follows city and local-level measures on prohibiting people from lighting up in public.
Campaigners hope the move, which will see officials lead by example, will help bring about a nationwide law banning smoking in public places. It is believed that the notice from the State Council, or China’s cabinet comes two years after the health ministry pushed out guidelines banning smoking in venues including hotels and restaurants and almost 20 years after the first moves to ban smoking in certain venues. However, these were criticised as having no clear punishments or details on how such bans would be enforced and signs prohibiting smoking in restaurants and bars generally go unheeded.
The new rules mean that officials also cannot use public funds to buy cigarettes and within Communist Party or government offices, tobacco products cannot be sold nor adverts displayed.
“Smoking remains a relatively universal phenomenon in public venues,” the circular said, quoted by news agency Xinhua.
“Some officials smoke in public places, which has not only jeopardised the environment and public health, but tarnished the image of party and government offices.”
The party urged its members to quit smoking and to convince others to stop while aiming to build “a good societal atmosphere of banning and controlling smoking.” Officials who violate the ban are to be subject to “criticism, education, party discipline or even the law, in especially serious cases.”
Anti smoking campaigners in the country welcomed the news.
“This is likely a major breakthrough. For the first time, very high-level attention and support is being given to anti-tobacco efforts,” said Ray Yip, head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s China program, which has been working on smoking cessation campaigns in the country.
China, with a population of 1.35 billion, has more than 300 million smokers. Experts say huge revenues from the state-owned tobacco monopoly have hindered anti-smoking measures and believe an order banning party officials from smoking could help to reduce its influence.
Smoking, which is linked to an average annual death toll of 1.4 million people in China in recent years, is one of the greatest health threats the country faces, government statistics show. The annual number of cigarettes sold in the country increased by 50 per cent to 2.52 trillion in 2012 compared with ten years earlier, according to the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.
Last year, the health ministry said China accounts for about 40 per cent of global production and consumption of tobacco.