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Prevent Officials Accepting Cigarette Bribes

Lawmakers draft rules to prevent officials accepting cigarette ‘bribes’

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Feb 25, 2009

Mainland legislators are drafting bills to ban government officials from buying cigarettes using public funds or accepting them as gifts.

The legislators said tobacco consumption had led to an increase in rampant corruption, state media reported.

They were also likely to propose an increase in tobacco tax and a separation of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and large tobacco companies, Xinhua quoted mainland health activists as saying.

Analysts said if the bills were passed, it would be the first time on the mainland that accepting cigarettes would amount to taking bribes.

As part of the anti-smoking campaign which has gathered pace in recent months, the Ministry of Health’s National Tobacco Control Office and several non-governmental organisations have worked with deputies to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, who gather for their annual meetings next week.

Although Beijing signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a World Health Organisation treaty, in 2003, activists said it had made little effort to implement it or provide adequate support for tobacco controls.

This is not the first time that health activists and legislators have joined forces in pushing for tougher tobacco controls. A similar bill was proposed by an NPC deputy in 2007 calling for government attention to the health hazards of smoking and for a ban on using public funds to refund cigarette costs.

But Wu Yiqun, executive vice-director of the Research Centre for Health Development, said the bills proposed this year had made the most specific reference yet to the links between cigarette smoking and combating corruption.

“We have to make repeated efforts to push forward the difficult campaign which very much depends on the government policy,” Professor Wu said. “No one expects big breakthroughs through one single bill, but the bills this year have a better opportunity because of enormous public support for a healthy environment and anti-corruption attempts.”

The monopoly of the tobacco industry, and expensive cigarettes, were sources of huge waste and graft, the agency and campaigners said.

Zhou Jiugeng, a district housing chief in Nanjing, was sacked and placed under investigation last year after being found wearing a watch worth about 100,000 yuan (HK$113,580) and smoking cigarettes selling for 1,500 yuan a carton.

Anti-smoking activists say government funds for cigarettes in Jianli and Honghu counties in Hubei stand at as much as 10 million yuan a year.

The proposed bills would cover all government agencies, state-owned enterprises and the military. Officials who accepted cigarettes as gifts would be charged with taking bribes, and subject to criminal punishment.

Tobacco office director Yang Gonghuan told Xinhua there were over 300 million cigarette smokers in the country, with 1 million dying of tobacco-related illnesses such as lung and throat cancer and heart disease each year.

“It’s high time for NPC and CPPCC delegates to appeal to the government and the public to get involved in tobacco controls,” Dr Yang said.

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