Anti-tobacco campaigners have yet to receive a reply to a letter to central authorities demanding they reject an application from Yunnan officials to increase tobacco production quota that they promised to use to help victims of a recent earthquake in the province that killed at least 80.
The Yunnan provincial development and reform commission, an economic planning body, has applied to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) for a permit to increase its tobacco production by 400,000 boxes after the 5.7-magnitude earthquake hit Yiliang county on September 7, Chongqing Morning Post reported Wednesday.
The move aims to boost tobacco taxes by 600 million yuan ($94.79 million) which would be spent on construction in the disaster-hit area, said the provincial authorities.
"It is like quenching thirst by drinking poison," said Wang Keping, director of Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, an anti-tobacco campaigner.
Wang said that the 400,000 boxes containing about 20 billion cigarettes, enough for 3 million smokers for a year.
Yunnan authorities deny they have made the application, according to the Beijing Times Thursday.
The alleged application ignited criticism online, as some Web users said it was shameful for cigarette makers to try to cash in on the disaster.
"The Yunnan plan would help the tobacco maker publicize its brand, as a way of boosting the industry," Wang said.
The central government has allocated 1.05 billion yuan in disaster relief in Yunnan.
Phone calls and faxes to the Yunnan authorities went unanswered as of late Thursday.
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