Chinese fume over honour to tobacco academic

PHOTO: Chinese fume over honour to tobacco academic

BEIJING - Chinese health officials and commentators have assailed one of the country's most prestigious academic bodies for recruiting a scientist who specialized in refining low-tar cigarettes - at a time when the government has said it is fighting smoking.

Xie Jianping, 52, who works for a research institute of the state-owned China National Tobacco Corporation, has been called the "Killer Academician" and "Tobacco Academician" on Chinese Internet sites after he was elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering, an honorary body that also advises the government.

Xie has done research on how to reduce the effects of tar in tobacco, and on adding traditional Chinese herb medicines to cigarettes, according to media reports in recent days.

"He is trying to make people more addicted to smoking, and now elected to be academician! How strange? Millions of people died from smoking in our country," one micro-blogger said on the country's popular Twitter-like service, Sina's Weibo.

"Xie's election is our country's compromise to tobacco industry," another microblog commentator said.

China is the world's largest cigarette maker and the tobacco industry provides a big share of tax revenues.

"Xie Jianping election is the shame of Chinese Academy of Engineering," said Yang Gonghuan, director of the National Tobacco Control Office, according to a report in the Beijing Times earlier this week.

China has more than 300 million smokers and has banned smoking at all indoor public venues from May this year, though such rules are regularly flouted.

Nearly 1.2 million Chinese people die from smoking-related diseases every year, according to the Ministry of Health.