2009 article posted for filing
CLIFFORD COONAN in Beijing
CHINESE STATE employees are being asked to do their patriotic duty to support the local economy – by lighting up a cigarette. And no butts.
In Gongan county in Hubei province, the order has come down from above that employees of all local government departments, organisations, service centres and corporations must consume at least 23,000 cartons of cigarettes this year.
This translates into 400 cartons for most departments and state companies, and 140 cartons for each school.
In a law which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the state picks up the tab”, cadres are required to smoke local brands, and anyone smoking other brands can be fined. The smoking allowance aims to boost the regional economy by encouraging more consumption of local cigarettes.
Each work unit in the local government has to produce a monthly work plan, which outlines rates of consumption by employees.
This plan will be closely monitored, and if the bureaucrats and civil servants fail to smoke the required amount, their department risks losing out on its full share of the full smoking allowance of four million yuan (€440,000).
During one school inspection at Zhangtiansi Middle School in April, officials going through waste paper baskets in the staff room found three butts from cigarettes made in other provinces, and the school was strongly criticised.
A fine of 1,000 yuan (€110) can be imposed, although in this particular instance the transgression is being used as a test case to show the way to observe the new ruling.
The local government hopes to retrieve losses from cigarette income tax with the decree, said Chen Nianzu, a member of Gongan’s cigarette leadership group.
“We’re guiding people to help contribute to the local economy,” said Mr Chen, according to the Hubei Daily newspaper.
This patriotic smoking drive follows pressure earlier this year on cadres in Hefei province and other citizens to buy apartments as part of their national duty to keep the real estate market afloat.
China has more smokers than any other country, with 350 million puffing away regularly. A million die of smoking-related diseases every year.
The government has introduced more anti-smoking measures recently to try and encourage people to stop, such as introducing no-smoking areas and trying to educate children not to smoke.
Internet commentators were outraged at the move. “Why should we use public money to pay for government officials to smoke?
“If they want a fag, they should buy their own, and put the money into social welfare, healthcare and stopping people from smoking,” wrote one blogger.
© 2009 The Irish Times