Archive for May, 2012

Money and Cigarettes

May 16, 2012 3 comments

I’m a great smoker.  When I was looking for advice on how to be a successful writer, I was told that to take up smoking is a must.  “No non smoker is worth reading”, AA Gill once wrote, “And writers who give up become crashing bores.”

It soon became one of the few things that I do well.  I enjoyed the privilege of an unrepentant, unapologetic, shameless and guilt-free nicotine habit.  

Or rather, I did.  

Today marks the end of day four of my smoke-free life.  It’s not been too bad, since I was never a hardcore smoker (I was what Malcolm Gladwell would call a “chipper” – I enjoyed a smoke, but I never smoked enough to become completely addicted), it was mostly the fact that beer and cigarettes went very well together, and the smoking culture in China meant that there was always a cigarette to be had.  

Part of my desire to quit was my new found love of running, and the fact that while my liver may be able to renew itself in between baijiu binges, I’d be pushing the boundaries of science when fantasizing about growing a new lung.  

Cigarettes are everywhere in China, and I’ve no idea how sharing a pack of cigarettes became a sign of enduring friendship.  It’s pretty impossible to do business in China without giving the gift of, er, death to the keep the local officials happy, and you’re not a true man unless you can buy someone a pack of 45rmb fags – and those aren’t the cheapest to be had.  Good Cat Cigarettes sell for nearly $900, and Deng Xiao Ping’s favoured Panda cigarettes are nearly $110 per pack.  a pack of Marlboros will set you back nearly a tenth of the price of a pack in the UK, and the cheapest on will cost you about 2p.  

The prices of the smokes is just one of the endlessly jaw-dropping statistics in the Middle Kingdom – nearly half the male population smokes, two thirds of doctors smoke, no smoking signs are routinely flaunted and people think that its ok to smoke in a subway toilet.  A million Chinese every year die from a smoking related disease, and the bank balance of China National Tobacco keeps on raking in the cash – in 2011, profits were up a mindboggling 17%.  

Efforts to fight back haven’t been successful, with a smoking cessation clinic at the Sino-Japanese Hospital closed down after a couple of months due to lack of interest.  In 2009, officials in Hubei were ordered (yes, ordered) to smoke more cigarettes in order to boost the economy.  Ash trays were inspected for rival brands, and those who were found smoking brands manufactured in rival provinces were punished.  Teachers at a local school were given smoking quotas (public minded officials subject the poor folk at the school with random spot check, sifting through ashtrays and bins to make sure teachers were smoking Hubei branded cancersticks), and officials light up nearly 230,000 cigarettes worth in excess of four hundred thousand pounds.  

So you can imagine that it’s not easy to give up the evil weed completely.  Cigarettes, fake cigarettes and cigars will be around for a long time here, much longer than the people who smoke them anyway.  


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