One Man's Crusade

I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter From Asia comes from Beijing.

One thing visitors to the United States notice is that it's getting harder and harder to find a place to smoke. One thing visitors coming to China notice is how people here seem to smoke everywhere, all the time.

Except around this man: Zhang Yeu. A one-man anti-smoking crusader so dedicated to his cause that, yep, he will walk up and grab people's cigarettes. And most people actually like it.

One man told me, "He made me feel guilty about smoking. How good our society would be if we had more people like him."

It's not just that he steals the cigarettes and carefully disposes of them. But he papers anyone he can find with articles about the deadly dangers of smoking.

"Even when I was a child," he told me, "I knew cigarettes were a bad thing."

In the past four years, he's traveled to 130 Chinese cities - paying his own way, or living, as he puts it, on the kindness of strangers who back his cause.

And no wonder. One of three cigarettes smoked in the world is smoked here. Three hundred million Chinese smoke. That means China has more smokers than the entire population of the United States.

One reason: the Chinese government owns the cigarette manufacturers. We're talking about a population and a government hooked on nicotine and the big bucks it generates.

Not everyone likes the direct, grab the cigarette approach. And some admit they are helplessly hooked, like this man, who tells Yue, "I could not eat but I could never not smoke."

"That's why I am working so hard at this," Yeu explains, "to help you quit."

When we last saw Mr. Yue, he was headed down the sidewalk, hard at work. And when it comes to making people stop smoking, we'd like to think this one man's crusade will be blessed with success.
By Barry Petersen