The New York Times recently published an interesting story on the effects of China’s smoking restrictions on the population. Smoking is ingrained in China’s culture; more people smoke in China than the population of the United States, according to the article.

Every day in China, I’ve experienced the cloud of smoke hanging over a restaurant, breathing in the the unmistakable smell of tobacco and nicotine. Or walking around the park and navigating my way around discarded cigarette butts

But according to Andrew Jacobs’ reporting, the culture of smoking is slowly, glacially, changing. But at least it’s changing.

I had wanted to write a short post on this very topic because I personally experienced how perceptions are changing, especially among the country’s youth. The Times beat me to it. But I’m still going to share a couple of experiences.

One is a conversation with one of my cousins in Guangzhou. He’s 21-year-old computer science student at Sun Yat-sen University who’s about to graduate next year. He’s planning to attend grad school in the U.S. in 2009. He asked if the majority of young people in the States smoked.

I said no, saying that it was becoming passé and that many cities had banned smoking in public places, restaurants and bars. He responded by telling me that perceptions in Guangzhou were changing, that many of the city’s youth, especially college students, didn’t smoke. That the ones who smoked were looked down upon by other students and viewed as not studious or immature, he said. As we continued to talk in the restaurant over lunch, however, the secondhand smoke from the opposite table wafted toward us.

The other experience was during my minibus ride to the Great Wall on Saturday. I had to take a minibus to Simatai, a more remote section of the Wall. There were ten of us packed in this bus that safely held seven. The man, a dead ringer for a Chinese Steve Buscemi, sat across from me on a wooden bench. He decided to light up, but one of the other passengers, a woman in her 20s, admonished him for lighting up in the cramped minibus.

He still lit up but he sheepishly inhaled on his cigarette, blowing the smoke out of the window. The bus ride took about an hour, and he didn’t smoke another cigarette.