Officials ordered to buy cigarettes
Smoking can fire up the local economy, believes a county government in Hubei province that has issued an edict to civil servants requiring them to consume 23,000 cartons of locally made cigarettes a year.
According to cnhubei.com, a provincial government-backed internet portal, Gongan county has stipulated that cigarettes for official use be put on the government's purchase list, and that those who failed to meet the quota would be fined. The quota translates into 4 million (HK$4.6 million) yuan in government spending per year.
The mandatory purchase of cigarettes is expected to benefit local companies and help the government collect more taxes. According to the website, schools have also been given the cigarette quota.
One village, Zhangtiansi, is required to purchase 400 cartons of cigarettes a year for its officials. If the quota was not met, the county government would fine it 1,000 yuan, the website said.
Beijing has embarked on an aggressive fixed-asset investment plan to combat the economic downturn, but it is rare for smoking to be used as a measure to boost the economy.
In Gongan, authorities are taking the cigarette quota seriously, with the government establishing a taskforce to enforce it.
One school was found to have violated the rule when officials discovered several teachers had smoked imported cigarettes when they collected three non-compliant butts from an ashtray.
According to cnhubei.com, the government would publicly criticise such 'undisciplined practices'.
An official named Chen Nianzu was quoted as saying the edict was aimed at boosting the local government's coffers as consumption of non-local cigarettes had cost Gongan 'a large sum in tax revenue'.
Gongan collected 22 million yuan in cigarette consumption taxes last year, according to the local tobacco monopoly bureau. Taxes from the tobacco industry account for 10 per cent of the nation's total income. The edict in Gongan provides a snapshot of the nation's protectionism.
There are more than 100 major tobacco makers on the mainland and local governments hope companies and individuals on their turf will purchase more locally made cigarettes.
Some provinces have also set barriers to discourage sales of non-local cigarettes with non-local tobacco makers required to pay additional taxes. Some local governments even forbid the sale of non-local cigarettes
The number of cartons of cigarettes civil servants in Gongan county have been ordered to consume in a year: 23,000