Odds are, if you've been out to dinner in China, you've been offered cigarette after cigarette from a dizzying array of brands and boxes. Whether or not you accept them, each one has a specific meaning and makes a different statement. Smoking is a way of expressing status, camaraderie, and hometown loyalty. A majority of men smoke in China, and often use cigarettes to break the ice or lubricate all kinds of social avenues.
The tobacco industry in China is huge: it posted a $90 billion profit in 2010 and now produces 40% of the world's tobacco. The China National Tobacco Corporation is the largest producer in the world, and controls virtually all the transportation, storage and marketing of the nation's cigarettes, which are then sold by dozens of different regional companies. It's true that anti-smoking campaigns are gaining traction, but with over 300 million smokers in China, tobacco will remain an important part of the culture for the foreseeable future.
Here are the most famous brands found around the country:
1) Zhonghua (中华)
Probably the most famous brand, Zhonghua is the badge of any successful businessman, government employee, or Party member. At around 50 RMB a pack, they're not cheap, yet carton after carton are given as gifts and tokens of appreciation across the country every day. Although they are often associated with Chairman Mao, the popularity of this cigarette goes beyond just the cult of personality: it is easily recognisable as an expensive, quality, face-giving cigarette. It's a safe but conservative choice.
2) Zhongnanhai (中南海)
Zhongnanhai, named after the Party's government building in Beijing, was specially produced for Mao Zedong from the 1960's on and is logically a natural go-to in Beijing. Light in flavour, this brand is also wildly popular with foreigners for some reason. Coming in 1, 5, 8, and 10 milligram packs, every pack costs less than 10 RMB.
3) Lesser Panda (小熊猫)
Those who wish to show their respect for Deng Xiaoping might choose Lesser Panda (小熊猫), a classic label from his native Sichuan. In fact, he preferred a special blend of Lesser Panda, made from the tips of leaves and going for as high as $100 a pack in Beijing government stores. The brand is owned by the Shanghai Tobacco Group but is mostly grown in Sichuan.
4) Pride (娇子)
Most cigarette brands are associated with a specific region, and locals will tend to smoke the brand from their hometown. A person smoking Pride (娇子) is probably from Sichuan, or was introduced to it by someone from the region. It's another brand that has a range of prices, from 8 to 50 RMB.
5) Haomao (好猫)
Haomao (good cat), the Xi'an brand, is common sight in the rough and chilly Shaanxi region. There aren't a lot of brands from the frozen North, and they're rarely seen in provinces that have more concentrated cigarette markets. If you live in Shanghai, you may have never seen Haomao. Going out of your way to get a pack means dedication to the region. They're as cheap as 10 RMB or 50 for the shiny Chengshi (盛世) box.
6) Yuxi (玉溪)
Brand loyalty shows just how deeply the tobacco industry affects some parts of the country, particularly in that giant of tobacco growing, Yunnan. Yuxi (玉溪) is one of the biggest companies in China, and has built schools, roads, parks, and even a cigarette-themed amusement park in the small town of Yuxi in Yunnan. Sales of their silver 9 RMB packs are high around China. Who knows, you might even be lucky enough to meet someone with a 160 RMB diamond pack.
7) Hongta Shan (红塔山)
Some brands, however, transcend local preferences: Hongta Shan (红塔山) hails from Yunnan but is enjoyed across the country. Yunnan's presence in the tobacco industry is huge: it's the number one province for tobacco growth, and Hongtashan is the best-selling brand in China. High in nicotine and sugar, the brown, 10 RMB pack is the most common, but the 60 RMB pack (which cleverly distinguishes its cigarettes with brown papers) is also often used to impress at dinner tables.
8) Baisha (白沙)
Other labels have lesser associations: Baisha (白沙), grown near Mao's old hometown in Hunan, are favoured by soldiers. They're an unassuming cigarette, with a white crane on the pack, and sell for 5, 10 or 15 RMB, with the 10 RMB being the most common.
9) Suyan (苏烟)
Some brands are meant only to impress. Suyan (苏烟), the sophisticated choice for Suzhounese, has only a 60 RMB pack and nothing lower. The go-to cigarette for any formal situation around Jiangsu, Suyan is a good bet around the country for coming off a little classy. It would be inappropriate to hand out anything that's less than 10 RMB a pack in a nice dinner or other social situation, and 50 or 60 is the most common range.
10) Nanjing (南京)
Of course, being associated with high living can be a negative for some brands. The 12 or 15 RMB Nanjing (南京), usually a safe choice for the Jiangsu region, has recently suffered from a bit of scandal. Probably one of its most expensive labels is the outrageous yellow pack, which will set you back 250 RMB for a small box. A Nanjing government official was seen handing out several packs of the cigarette shortly after making a speech on corruption. Now no one wants to be seen spending money on such an extravagance, and locals joke that they're only smoked behind closed doors.
Although China might still be behind much of the world in reducing the health risks associated with smoking, the last few years have seen a sharp increase in public awareness of the dangers of cigarettes. A recent campaign, "The gift of cigarettes is the gift of cancer," graced billboards around the country. Cigarette companies are still banned from advertising on TV and in magazines.
Smoking is, in fact, banned in bars and restaurants across China. While enforcement at the moment is still extremely lax, more and more restaurants (especially upscale places) are asking smokers to step outside. Taxi drivers, too, will occasionally ask that their fares wait.
Although smoking is becoming less and less popular around the world, it looks like it'll have a place in Chinese society for years to come. Tobacco farmers are happy to have a consistent buyer in the China National Tobacco Corporation, which makes a tidy profit for the government. Most importantly, cigarettes are still an important way of making a statement in any number of social contexts.
Millions of Deaths: Tobacco Becomes China's Top Killer
A Lost Cause? China's Smoking Ban and the Conflicting Interests
5 Things You Can Do in China That You Can't Do in Your Home Country
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Keywords: cigarette brands China smoking in China top 10 cigarette brands China
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This "article" is rediculous. I love Phil's comment, "next week article : How to choose your cancer." Not only that, you didn't even answer your own title. You didn't discuss anything about taste, quality, or anything else that would help a person choose the "right" cig. It is just a list of the top 10 "famous" brands. But you also didn't even use any sources. "Famous" in what way? Top selling? Top earning company? Most popular with kids?
I'm also bothered that echinacities would run an article that promots smoking. The negative health effects are fact and shouldn't be encouraged. (If people choose to smoke that is fine, but it shouldn't be promoted).
A better article would have been about which Chinese cigs are "safer" in regards to amounts of tobacco, niccotine, and so on. I have often wondered if smoking Chinese cigarettes increases chances of lung cancer as opposed to cigarettes sold in countries with much higher quality control and health and safety standards. That would have been an interesting article without actually promoting smoking.
May 10, 2012 20:57 Report Abuse
The article only refere to the price of cigarettes, there is no real survey.
Articles are really useless on this website. Really no needs to promote a drug.
Yeah but no, smoking is not cool, chinese cigarettes are very strong and harmfull and it s difficult to quit.
Cigarette is the first cause of death in china.
May 11, 2012 00:22 Report Abuse