The Chinese Communist Party is banning its officials from smoking.
The Chinese Communist Party is banning its officials from smoking. Reuters

China has banned party officials from cigarette smoking in hospitals and schools in efforts to cut the 1.4 million deaths linked to tobacco every year.

The health ministry had previously published guidelines to stop smoking in public places like hotels and restaurants in 2011, but this was not strictly enforced and there were no clear punishments.

Chinese party officials who smoke in public should be "criticised and educated about their evil influence," read a circular from the State Council, China's cabinet.

The curbs will bring in a nationwide law banning smoking in public places. Officials will be forbidden from lighting up in schools, hospitals, sports venues and public transport, according to Xinhua News.

Ray Yip, head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's China programme, said: "This is a major breakthrough.

"For the first time, very high-level attention and support is being given to anti-tobacco efforts.

"This likely will lead to meaningful legislation and enforcement related to smoking."

The foundation has also been working to ending tobacco advertising in the national press and on TV.

Experts said that huge revenues from the state-owned tobacco monopoly have hindered anti-smoking measures.

China has a population of 1.35 billion and the world's largest number of smokers at more than 300 million.

The annual number of cigarettes sold in China increased by 50% to 2.52 trillion in 2012 over 10 years earlier, according to the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.

"Smoking remains a relatively universal phenomenon in public venues," said 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 and leaders and has a negative influence."

In a separate announcement, the State Council said those who smoke on high-speed trains can be fined up to 2,000 yuan (£199).