By NIKKI TINE
Science and Health Correspondent
TIANJIN (China Daily Show) – “When I’m working in Europe, sometimes I’ll wake up in a strange hotel room,” said traveling salesman Li Cao, 25. “The air smells of lavender and there’s no mucus on my pillow. It just feels weird.”
Li’s discomfort is not unusual – in fact, he is part of a growing market of young Chinese working abroad, lonely and often missing their home discomforts. They are being targeted for a new campaign by tobacco chiefs: the “Chinair” cigarette.
The China National Tobacco Corporation’s (CNTC) Chinair brand may have hit the market last week, but the grimy gimmick is already turning the heads – and stomachs – of travelers everywhere.
Chinair cigarettes mimic the average air quality in major Chinese cities, but are currently only available in two flavors, with Beijing Most Superior Motherland (Full Flavor) proving the most popular.
“We used real ingredients to make these innovative cigarettes,” says CNCT marketing executive Hu Bin. “Chinair Beijing is the more anti-social of the current flavors. The filters are made with a compound of asbestos and fiberglass, and silver iodide is added to give a taste of recently seeded clouds. You can really feel these bad boys a mile away.”
For some lucky buyers, actual factory workers’ sweat is sealed into the packet during the packaging process.
While not such a big seller, Chinair Tianjin already has a strong following among expats from cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Kunming. Chinair Tianjin version is not as heady as the Beijing version, Hu explained, mainly containing coal dust with only a hint of industrial waste.
The new cigarette is doing especially well in airports, where weary travelers stumble into duty-free shops, craving any air that isn’t heady with jet fuel.
Another selling point is that the new smokes may carry a lower risk of cancer than the average cigarette.
“These cigarettes are still dangerous, but no more dangerous than breathing the air in Beijing or Tianjin,” said Ma Dong, chief medical and marketing officer at CNTC. “It is so similar to the air quality in these cities that, for the smokers there, it could actually be a viable quitting mechanism.”
Though it’s still early days, Chinair has a bright future planned for the product. A Chinair Wuhan (Menthol) brand is in the works, though Hu declined to divulge how the numbing flavor is achieved.
Hu has revealed that Chinair may not limit its flavors to domestic cities in future. A chance to give Chinese smokers “an exotic taste of the foreigner,” with flavors including Delhi Spice and Mexico Mule, is a “distinct possibility.”
“It’s like I never left,” said app developer Stephen Chung, 37, who picked up a carton of Beijing while at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. “Chinair has that special Beijing feel – strong, manly, quite painful.”
“Now I’m really in flavor country!” wheezed Li, as he huffed on a filterless Chinair. “Oh, wait – this is a cancer ward.”