Authorities in China's Gongan county in the central Hubei province have found a simple method of giving a boost to local cigarette producers — ordering all civil servants to meet "smoking targets" or face a fine.

On the sleeve: "red letter order". is a state-run website. The caricature was published in the opinion section.

The following notice was sent out 4 March 2009:

We are asking all public service units in the county to centralise the purchase of cigarettes to be smoked as part of their work. [...] In line with these new guidelines, each unit must smoke over 230,000 packets of [locally produced] cigarettes this year. The police are commissioned with the consumption of 25,000 packets while other services (women's association, arts council, etc) will be charged with 500 packets. [...] Units which do not meet these prescribed targets for two consecutive months will face a direct reduction of public funding [...]."

It's customary in China for civil servants to offer guests cigarettes during receptions, banquets and official ceremonies. It seems that the county in question had a tendency to buy cigarettes from other provinces, which was depriving the local tax office of money. So Gongan government officials came up with a brilliant idea — not only to enforce the purchase of locally produced cigarettes, but also to set quotas on the purchases. More trade for the local tobacco producers, and more importantly, more taxes for the local government.

This 4 million yuan (€440,000) "present" to the local tobacco industry, funded by the taxpayer, became something of a hot topic on the Internet, making its way up to the national press. Under the pressure of the media spotlight, the Gongan authorities withdrew the notice.

There are 350 million smokers in China; a million die from smoking-related illnesses each year.

This post was compiled with help from our one of our Observers in China, Yu Zhang.

Cartoons posted on the net

Written on the paper: "Red letter document [letter of high importance]. Gongan county cigarette consumption quantities for each service". Posted here.


Posted here. Translated by our Observer Du Xiaodong