Everyone must smoke! That’s the edict a Chinese county government seemed to issue recently when it ordered state employees to puff their way through 23,000 cartons of locally made cigarettes over the coming year.
To make sure every bureaucrat complied, Gong’an county, located in the central province of Hubei, even set out a monthly consumption plan. Most departments were ordered to smoke 400 cartons monthly, and schools received a 140-carton quota. At $29 a carton, the plan was slated to force workers to buy $670,000 worth of cigarettes this year. Organizations that failed to reach their target would have their budgets cut, while fines of $170 would be levied against functionaries caught puffing unapproved brands, reported the ChuTian Metropolis Daily.
The decree was intended to benefit local tobacco firms and, since cigarette sales account for around 10 per cent of tax income, it would also help prop up the county’s balance sheet. “We’re guiding people to help contribute to the local economy,” said Chen Nianzu of the county cigarette leadership group.
Enforcement was rigorous. On the afternoon of April 2 a “cigarette marketing consolidate team” arrived at the Zhangtiansi Middle School to sift butts in the staff room. After discovering three “non-compliant” ends, a teacher was told he violated the “cigarette usage rule.” The school wasn’t fined, but it was criticized for “acts of indiscipline,” according to the Hubei government website.
Not surprisingly, there was widespread condemnation of the puffing order. With roughly one million of China’s 350 million smokers dying annually from smoking-related illnesses, even the central government has been on a non-smoking kick lately. Finally, on Tuesday, Gong’an backed down. “We decided to remove this edict,” its website stated. Though it still claimed the decree was intended to “protect tax revenues and consumers’ rights,” the county admitted it had violated rules by issuing the smoking notice, though officials didn’t elaborate on the mistake.