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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will ban smoking in all hospitals and medical facilities from 2011, the Health Ministry said on Friday, as the world's most populous nation struggles to get its people to kick one of their favorite habits.
China is the world's largest cigarette producer and Chinese are the world's most enthusiastic smokers, with a growing market of about 320 million making it a magnet for multinationals and focus of international health concerns.
Chinese cigarettes are also among the cheapest in the world, with a packet costing as little as a few cents. More than half of all male Chinese doctors also smoke.
"Every department in every part of the nation must establish leading work groups to put into effect a smoking control framework," the ministry said in a statement on its website (www.moh.gov.cn).
"Workers must give up smoking, not smoke in their workplace or public areas (and) promote knowledge about the harm tobacco causes," it added.
Military hospitals will also be banned from offering cigarettes to important visitors, the rules state.
It remains to be seen how easy it will be to enforce the new regulation as non-smoking signs and laws are generally given short shrift in China.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard