It’s smokin’!

Sometimes I feel like Chinese people and cigarette goes hand in hand (or cigarette in hand).
The amount of people who smokes in China is unbelievingly high!
According to online research I have done, there are around 350 MILLION people in mainland China who smokes, and I bet the number is even higher now.

Before starting to write this post, I didn’t really have a clue where this will take me, and the results are surprising.
Smoking in China is much more “rooted” than I had thought.

The smoking “culture” goes way back – smoking is actually a ubiquitous part of the social life (mostly for men).
For example – in traditional meetings (business and social) it is common to offer a cigarette one to the other (and alcohol – but that’s a different post all together) – and it might be considered rude to say no.
When you go to a Chinese restaurants, bus stations, some stores or just walk down the street – don’t be surprised if you will be clouded by a smoke screen.
Even while going into bathrooms (public, office, bank or wherever) – you will smell the cigarette “aroma”.

  • Fun fact #1-  In the old times (even today at some places), a very popular wedding gift was to give candy and cigarettes.                                                                                     Nowadays, it is very common that if you go to a men’s house, you will bring tobacco (cigarette packs) as a gift.

Mostly in smaller places – less in the “big city”.

Now, let’s go a little into history and more details:
When it comes to the time smoking had started  – wherever I searched, the smoking origins seem to be opium related (mostly for religious ceremonies).
When it comes to actual “recreational cigarettes” – it seem to be dated sometime in the 9th century and it started in Mexico / Central America.
I could not find the estimated date where cigarettes became common for use in China.

Chinese tobacco industry is the largest in the world (produces around 45% world wide – over 2.4 trillion pieces in a year) and is controlled by the state of China, so it enjoys related privileges.
Which privileges?
For example, up to date, no cigarette pack have a warning sign on it, nor did anyone succeeded in raising the cigarette prices (which eventually cause less people to buy them).
**You can buy a pack of 200 cigarettes for about 10$ in China (in Israel for example, the same will be around 70$)
The Chinese tobacco industry is very powerful, and a change in smoking habits seem very hard – which takes us to the next and last point.

The ministry of health office of China is actually trying to ban smoking in public places, and to create a more “smoke free” environment.
Officials say that during 2014 some new laws are expected to go into play, hopefully this will deter smokers of smoking in public places.

  • Fun fact #2 – the name “Cigarette” was given to the rolled smoking tobacco in France at around 1830.
  • Fun fact #3 – Zhongnanhai cigarettes – which are very popular (specially in Beijing) were actually special cigarettes made for Chairman Mao Zedong in late 1960’s.

It’s very interesting to see where will this ministry of health move will go – will it take affect?
will you be able to sit in a restaurant 5 years from now and see “no smoking sign” and they will be affective? or will you be able to go down the street without having to stop your breath?
Time will tell – I for one will surly keep an eye (and fingers crossed) for this grand move.

Adam Disatnik

I have been living in China since early 2013 in the great Beijing. I try to travel as much as I can and try to understand the culture and the habits as much as possible. It's amazing how much can be learned about China, and about life, while living abroad in a totally different country than the one you grew up in. I love it! Catch up on my blog to try and understand along with me:) Adam.

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1 Response

  1. Amir Klein says:

    As a former smoker who lives in China, Iv’e experienced some of the things described here by Adam. It’s very hard to find a place that doesn’t have that scent of a cigarette. Places that would be unthinkable to smoke in in other countries, like elevators, offices, and even the corridors of business buildings – are usually filled with smoke or at least the traces of it. During my smoking days, i even found cheaper cigarette packs then those that Adam mentioned. I guess China is a paradise for smokers and inhalers, but a living hell (on this aspect, at least) for non-smokers.

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