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No more tobacco from public funds

China's discipline watchdog will start a joint campaign with the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control to ban government officials from using public funds to purchase tobacco, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

Zhang Jing, a publicity official with the CATC, said the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection proposed the campaign last week.

"They (CCDI) phoned us last week ... They are taking a very active interest in such a joint campaign," said Zhang who said a specific timetable was not immediately available.

Phone calls to the CCDI office in charge of the campaign were unanswered as of yesterday afternoon.

Cigarettes are usually presented as gifts in China. But the thin tube of paper filled with finely cut tobacco has led to a number of government scandals in the past year.

Zhou Jiugeng was the former director of the real estate management bureau in Jiangning District of Nanjing in eastern China's Jiangsu Province.

Dubbed the "super-expensive-cigarette director," Zhou was removed from his post on suspicion of embezzling public funds to pursue a luxurious lifestyle after photos uploaded on the Internet showed a pack of Nanjing 95 Imperial cigarettes sitting in front of him. A pack costs about 150 yuan (US$22).

He was also found to be wearing a Vacheron Constantin watch, which costs at least 100,000 yuan (US$14,600) in China, and driving a Cadillac to work.

In another case, the Gong'an County in central China's Hubei Province was reported in early May to have encouraged government employees to smoke more than 230,000 packs of locally produced cigarettes a year. Departments whose officials failed to meet their respective quota would be fined, according to the county's regulations.

The county later overturned the regulations following wide media coverage.

According to Zhang, similar practices were carried out by many government authorities across China since 2006.

"Previously, our main initiative was to reduce the consumption of low-end cigarettes by campaigning to raise the tobacco tax," Zhang said.

"Now, we are looking to cut down demand for high-end cigarettes by banning officials from buying them with public funds." She said the campaign may also help fight corruption in Chinese government.

But some view the initiative as "disoriented."

Shi Yanping, an Internet critic, mocked fighting corruption by banning cigarette purchases as "like scratching your feet when wearing a pair of thick boots."

"The core of the anti-corruption work should be the cultivation of honesty and integrity of the officials," Shi said.


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