Gong'an county in Hubei province of China will have the distinction of being the first place in the world to impose fines on locals for not smoking cigarettes, even as many countries move to bannng tobacco products from being displayed in shops as well as smoking in public areas. (See: UK government bans display of tobacco products)
Even though it had imposed heavy taxes on tobacco product makers to safeguard public health and environment, Beijing played silent spectator as the Gong'an county government ordered all government agencies and institutions last month to consume 230,000 packs of locally manufactured cigarettes a year.
With plunging exports, Beijing had asked provincial governments to increase its spending; to comply with which the the Gong'an provincial government's decided to boost its revenues by forcing its citizens to smoke more.
The move has been criticised and "stupid" and "criminal" since more than a million Chinese die every year from smoking-related diseases.
The Gong'an county government warns on its official website site cnhubei.com that a fine of about 4 million yuan ($588,235) would be imposed on government departments that fail to consume the quota of cigarettes or officials found smoking non-local brands.
The Gong'an county had collected 22 million yuan in cigarette tax in 2008 and the tobacco industry in China accounts for 10 per cent of national income as there are nearly 350 million Chinese who puff their heart out, including more than half of all male doctors, despite a 2003 WHO estimates of 4.2 million deaths per year being caused by tobacco. (See: Kill the killer)
The Gong'an county hopes thatthe smoking regulation will raise tax collections and also keep other competitors from neighbouring provinces and the over 100 rival Chinese cigarette manufacturers at bay.
The local government in Gong'an county has also established a "special taskforce" to enforce the regulation and according to a local newspaper report, this special task force entered a village middle school one afternoon and started going through the remnants of the ashtrays and dustbins in the school.
The special task force discovered three cigarette butts that were not made locally and pulled up a teacher for not complying with the civil servants 'cigarette usage rule' of smoking local brands.
Although the teacher was not fined, the news was reported on cnhubei.com, where the school and teachers were subjected to public criticism for indiscipline.
The Hebei province regulation on smoking is not an isolated one since other provinces have hiked up taxes on foreign cigarettes and in some cases even banned their sale.
In 2007, Jingzhou, a city in Hubei province had issued a similar regulation in order to encourage local cigarette manufacturers and increase its tax revenue, but it was withdrawn six month later after public protested.