Smoke or pay fine; says local Chinese county

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 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)