China's corruption watchdog will clamp down on government officials who use public money to buy expensive cigarettes, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday, after one county last month urged its officials to smoke more than a million local cigarettes a year.
Smoking is tightly woven into the fabric of daily life in China, the world's largest tobacco market, where about 2 trillion cigarettes are sold every year. Offering cigarettes is an important part of official banquets, and expensive brands of cigarettes confer greater status.
After a public outcry, rural Gongan county in central Hubei province last month backed away from a proposed rule urging its officials to smoke more than 230,000 packs of locally produced cigarettes a year to boost tax income revenue.
The government said it was an attempt to crack down on fake cigarettes and illegal cigarette smuggling, the Hubei-based Chutian Metropolis Daily had reported.
Now the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has expressed a "very active interest" in working on a campaign with the Chinese Association of Tobacco Control, Xinhua reported.
The association is a nonprofit group administrated by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Civil Affairs to control tobacco use.
No details were given on the campaign.
"Previously, our main initiative was to reduce the consumption of low-end cigarettes by campaigning to raise the tobacco tax," Zhang Jing, a publicity officer with the Chinese Association of Tobacco Control, told Xinhua.
"Now, we are looking to cut down demand for high-end cigarettes by banning officials to buy them with public funds," Zhang said. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is the country's top anti-graft body, and the favoured channel for the Communist Party to punish officials. A notice on the website of the Chinese Association of Tobacco Control said the watchdog had written to it saying the campaign was a good idea.