Chinese officials told to smoke their way out of recession

By Calvin Palmer

Local government officials in a Chinese province have been ordered to smoke nearly a quarter of a million packs of locally made cigarettes or risk being fined.

The Gong’an county government in Hubei province has ordered its staff to smoke 230,000 packs of Hubei-produced cigarette brands a year to boost tax revenues and protect the province’s cigarette manufactures from outside competition.

“The regulation will boost the local economy via the cigarette tax,” said Chen Nianzu, a member of the Gong’an cigarette market supervision team.

Authorities in Gong’an county are taking the cigarette quota seriously and have established a “special taskforce” to enforce it.

According to a local newspaper account, a teacher from a village middle school said officials burst unannounced into the school one afternoon and started sifting through the ashtray and bins in the staff-room.

Three “non-compliant” cigarette butts were discovered by the “cigarette marketing consolidate team”. The teacher was informed he had violated the civil servants “cigarette usage rule”.

After some negotiation the school was spared a fine, but subjected to “public criticism” for “undisciplined practices”.

China has 350 million smokers, of whom a million die of smoking-related diseases every year. Despite anti-smoking campaigns, cigarette taxes form a major component of China’s annual tax-take at local level.

More than half of all male doctors in China smoke, but the government is now trying harder to get them to kick the habit in order to set an example for others.

It would appear the Chinese have a better grasp of free-market economic theory than capitalism’s champion, the United States.

While state governments are proposing to increase the tax on cigarettes to make up for budget shortfalls, thereby running the risk of actually reducing tax revenue, the Chinese have been quick to grasp the concept that more cigarettes sold means increased revenue.

With that kind of thinking, it is easy to understand how China has emerged as a world economic force, although I am not sure I agree with the compulsion aspect. However, it can be argued that the punitive cigarette tax imposed by states in America is “compulsion” under a different guise.

[Based on reports by The Daily Telegraph and AFP.]

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