Unlike many countries in the West, levels of smoking are on the increase in China, especially among sectors of the population like young urban women.
The introduction of wide-ranging bans on smoking in many Western countries has spurred many international cigarette companies to refocus their marketing campaigns on China.
The growing number of Chinese taking up smoking is worrying health officials.
China's health ministry says incidents of lung cancer have increased 465 per cent during the past 30 years.
According to its data, about a million Chinese die every year form smoking-related diseases – a figure that is projected to double by 2020.
As a result the ministry is struggling to stop the number of smokers increasing as domestic and international tobacco manufacturers continue to target the world's biggest cigarette market.
But with little education or other public help for smokers to kick the habit, the anti-smoking drive is making little headway.
Chen Jin, a doctor at one of only six anti-smoking clinics in Beijing, told Al Jazeera that just three out of 60 patients she had seen during the past year had been able to give up smoking.
The problem, she said, was that even the most educated Chinese do not know enough about the dangers of smoking.
"The people who show up here, they know smoking is kind of bad for you. But if you ask them about the health hazards, most of them don't know how deadly it is," she said.
|China is home to a third of the |
world's smokers [GALLO/GETTY]
More than 150 Chinese cities already have some restrictions, but Beijing is the first city to ban smoking in nearly all public places.
Judith Mackay, an advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO), told Al Jazeera the new rules, while not as wide-ranging as some may have hoped, were "a very definite step forward".
China is a signature to the WHO's framework convention on tobacco control, she noted, "so they're actually under an international legal obligation to implement these measures".
China's health department has also announced plans to crackdown on illegal tobacco advertising, especially advertisements that target young smokers.
The Beijing government is recruiting 100,000 inspectors to enforce the ban.
The majority will be workers at hotels, office buildings and other venues covered by the new smoking ban.