Smoking in China. There are a lot of smokers in China! Especially in Yunnan, where most of the tobacco is grown. Did you know that farmers can make up to 20x as much growing tobacco versus other vegetables? It pays the bills.
It is common to greet someone with a cigarette. Men smoking publicly, women, not so much. Smoking at meals (at a restaurant or in a home) is going to happen. You will be offered cigarettes many times on your trip. There are many types of cigarettes in China. There are even fake cigarettes in China (so if you though “normal” cigarettes were bad, what the hell are they putting in those “fake” ones?!)
This is all to say, there is etiquette on smoking in China, and whether you smoke or not, it might be helpful to know what the smoking etiquette is in China.
How Much do Cigarettes Cost in China
This may be part of the problem. They are cheap. Chinese cigarettes cost as little $0.30 USD per box. If you want to buy the brown box that cost $10.00 USD a box, they have those, too. And they have about 100 varieties in-between. You can even get American cigarettes in China.
Smoking Etiquette in China / The Cigarette Offer
- Chinese people (usually men, as women seem to be less public smokers) will offer you a cigarette when they first meet you. You can say, “Wo jie yan le” (wo-jee-ah-yen-lah) which means “I quit smoking,” or you can say, “Wo bu chou yan, xie xie,” (wo boo cho yen, shay shay) which means “I don’t smoke, thanks.” It’s polite to smile and light-heartedly wave off the offer. If they are persistent, keep saying no.
- If you do smoke, get ready for the strongest cigarette of your life. If they offer you a cigarette, if you do not have a lighter, you must cup your hands around their flame when they are lighting your cigarette. It is very rude to stick your head out and have them try to light it for you without your assistance.
- If you smoke, it is polite to always offer your surrounding guests cigarettes as well. Take two or three out of your pack, and insist that your guests take them, even if they don’t smoke. Busting out one cigarette for yourself will earn you the “I’m cheap” label real quick. Especially since in China, cigarettes cost between 5 – 10 RMB ($0.65 – $1.30 USD) per pack.
- If you have your own place in China it is wise to have a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and an ashtray in your house even if you do not smoke.
- Never, under any circumstance, ask your guest to go outside or use your outdoor balcony or patio to smoke.