(NaturalNews) The government of Gong'an County, in China's Hubei province, sparked global controversy when it imposed a "cigarette quota" on public employees, in an effort to boost local revenue during the economic downturn.
Chinese law allows county governments to levy taxes on sales of cigarettes only if they are produced within the province. Gong'an County typically raises the least cigarette tax revenue of any county in the region, however, in part because neighboring Hunan province makes some of the highest quality cigarettes in China.
In an effort to raise revenue, the county passed a law ordering public employees to smoke only Gong'an county cigarettes, and threatening to penalize them if they failed to meet a certain quota. County employees were ordered to smoke a total of 230,000 Hubei-brand cigarettes, for total spending of nearly 4 million yuan ($590,000). As part of the new rule, a "special task force" was created and charged with enforcement.
The order drew global media attention when a local newspaper reported that a middle school teacher was to be disciplined for smoking the wrong brand of cigarettes. The teacher reported that county officials entered the school unannounced one afternoon and began sorting through the cigarette butts in the staff room.
When three "non-compliant" cigarette butts were found, the county threatened a fine. After negotiation with the school, a public reprimand was issued instead.
When the story broke, local and global press immediately criticized the rule for wasting public money and encouraging unhealthy practices.
In recent years, the central Chinese government has launched major anti-smoking initiatives. China is home to 350 million smokers, 1 million of whom die from tobacco-related causes each year.
Faced with mounting criticism, Gong'an authorities temporarily suspended the rule, saying that it violated rules about issuing notices.
"The matter is under review," the county said in a statement.
No health concerns were cited as a reason for the reversal, but officials did say that they had no intention of encouraging non-smokers to begin smoking.