On the outskirts of this provincial capital stands a massive sports complex, built by state-owned cigarette manufacturer Hongta Group. Outside, a grand frieze depicts a progression, from farmers harvesting tobacco to high-rise buildings and jet airplanes.
The blunt message: Tobacco is responsible for bringing modernity to this poor corner of southwest China. Tobacco money has built highways, railroads and hydroelectric dams. Hongta has branched into businesses ranging from hotels and real estate to securities trading. It’s provided capital for biotech firms and paper and cement companies.
“Tobacco is a pillar of the economy,” says Liu Ruisheng, deputy director of the Yunnan branch of Hongta’s parent company, China National Tobacco Corp., the world’s largest cigarette maker and a government-owned enterprise.
See where cigarettes have been stamped out, in Europe, Asia and the U.S.But now, five decades after the state went into the tobacco business, China is in the early stages of an epidemic. Rising rates of smoking-related diseases are one of the human costs of the Chinese government’s often single-minded focus on economic development.[Full Text]