Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cigarette Friendly Design Breathes Fresh Life Into China's Face Mask Sales

In addition to having more smokers than the entire population of the United States, China also has dangerously high levels of air pollution. As more people in China show concern over the air they breathe, this creates an obvious problem. But when I was in Maoming, a Chinese city where people are familiar with pollution from chemical plants, one night I saw how ingenuity and China's frequently mentioned pragmatism had come to the rescue again.

young man standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette while wearing a face mask

A young man was wearing a face mask with a specially fitted hole so he could continue smoking while protecting himself from the polluted air. He was happy to speak with me, and in response to several questions said:
Maoming's air is bad. Everybody knows that. So of course I wear a face mask, even though they bother me. But one thing I couldn't accept about masks before was they made it impossible to smoke. Last month my cousin who sells face masks in Zhongshan told me about these. Now I regularly wear cigarette face masks and only buy through him. There are many low quality imitation masks being sold. I'm concerned about my health, and I know he will only sell me the genuine ones.
Since then, I have seen people wearing the cigarette face masks in Chinese cities as far apart as Hengyang, Chongqing, and Shanghai. Today in Zhongshan, I finally had the opportunity to visit the face mask store earlier mentioned to me. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was a sign displaying a variety of masks well-suited for China's air.

store sign displaying several heave duty face masks

Inside I met the store owner. He told me he was secretly thrilled about China's pollution since business had never been better for him. And he had this to say about the cigarette face masks:
Business was slumping a little bit until these masks came out. They were an instant hit in the neighborhood and word quickly spread. Many men like to smoke and sharing cigarettes is a regular way they bond. It's important! But smoking with a regular mask is too difficult. Cigarette face masks make it easy. One important feature is that they are N90 masks. They don't filter as much as the N95 masks, so it doesn't takes too much effort to exhale the cigarette smoke.
He is not alone in finding success with cigarette face masks. They are a trending top seller online at Taobao. There are also rumors that Red Star alcohol plans to incorporate them into its pollution themed ads and that Lesser Panda, a popular cigarette in China, may soon offer branded cigarette face masks. With neither pollution nor smoking likely to disappear in the near future, analysts expect the market to only grow.

As I was about to leave the store, the owner tried to sell me a jumbo pack of cigarette face masks at a "friend discount". I explained I didn't smoke, in part due to health concerns. He pointed out I wasn't wearing a face mask and asked, "What do you think is worse for you, smoking a plant or breathing China's air?"

I had no answer, and we had a good laugh. Now I am on first name basis with store owner Renjie Yu. And I also have 20 cigarette face masks to give to friends.

Added Note: Relevant additional information for something posted on this date.


  1. I'm trying to figure out whether this is an April 1 post...

    1. You weren't the only one. The answer is here.

    2. yeah, i called it. I've been in China for 11 years now, and haven't seen those. Tempted to share, but rationality took over.

  2. 管中窥豹 [guǎn zhōng kuī bào]