China cigarette order goes up in smoke

Tue May 5, 2009 1:45am EDT
 
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BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - A county government in central China has rescinded an order which was intended to make officials smoke more to help the local economy, local authorities said on Tuesday.

Functionaries in Gongan county in rural Hubei province had been ordered to smoke at least 23,000 packs of cigarettes a year, worth nearly 4 million yuan ($586,700), to cushion government finances, according to regional media reports.

Those who failed to meet smoking targets or were caught smoking brands from other provinces would have been fined, the reports added, citing a government document issued earlier this year.

But the government has now backtracked after an uproar in the local press criticizing the policy as being harmful to health and a waste of public money.

"We decided to remove this edict," said a statement placed on the county government's website (www.gongan.gov.cn), saying it violated regulations about the issuing of notices.

The edict had originally been made to prevent the illegal distribution of cigarettes in the county and "to protect tax revenues and consumers' rights," it added.

China is the world's largest cigarette producer and Chinese are the world's most enthusiastic smokers, with a growing market of about 320 million making it a magnet for multinationals and focus of international health concerns.

($1=6.818 Yuan)

(Reporting by Beijing newsroom, editing by Ben Blanchard and Miral Fahmy)