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Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 12:28 UK

China cigarette order up in smoke

A man talks on a mobile phone while smoking cigarettes along a street in Beijing
China has an estimated 350 million smokers

A Chinese county has rescinded a rule urging its government workers to smoke more in order to boost tax income.

The authorities in Gong'an county had told civil servants and teachers to smoke 230,000 packs of the locally-made Hubei brand each year.

Those who did not smoke enough or used brands from other provinces or overseas faced being fined or even fired.

But the government has now backtracked from the policy, after a report in a local newspaper generated criticism.

U-turn

A million people die from smoking-related diseases in China every year, but the local authorities were initially undeterred by the health risks.

"The regulation will boost the local economy via the cigarette tax," Chen Nianzu, a member of the cigarette market supervision team in Gong'an county, Hubei province, told the Global Times newspaper.

The paper said the measure was probably an attempt to shore up the Hubei brands against tough competition from cigarettes produced in neighbouring Hunan province.

On Tuesday, the local government's website published a statement saying "We decided to remove this edict", but declined to elaborate further.

Smoking is deep-rooted in Chinese culture - where more than half of all male doctors smoke - and there is still a general lack of awareness about the impact on health.

But the authorities have recently started encouraging smokers to kick the habit - even imposing a ban on smoking in public buildings in the capital, Beijing, in the run up to the 2008 Olympic games.



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