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Pollution makes some ponder emigration

By Yu Ran and Shi Jing in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-17 07:15

Face mask and air purifier sales soar as people see no end to blight

Editor's Note: With foggy and hazy weather spreading across the whole country - more severely in the winter - Chinese residents have been buying a variety of products to fight the prevailing high levels of pollution. Affected by the smoggy weather, the purchase of goods that can protect people from it has grown rapidly.

Precaution is always better than cure.

Long before the fog and PM2.5 particle intensity indicator hit a historic high exceeding 600 on Dec 6 last year in Shanghai, Yang Hui, 28, a human resources manager with a local advertising company has stored boxes of face masks at home. She also bought for her daughter the US-made Vogmask, a premier filtering face mask that is offered in children's sizes.

"I bought a total of 60 face masks online for my family in November, when the winter brought along with it the smoggy weather - and I keep buying masks to maintain an average stock of around 10 to 20," she said.

Since November, Yang has spent more than 2,000 yuan ($330) in buying masks and other small items to fight the smog.

Yang added that her family members believe using the face masks and other related items, which raises daily expenditures for the family, should not be ignored because not doing so could have bad health effects from the pollution.

Reading the index shown by the air quality forecast application on her mobile phone has become a daily routine for Yang. She is cutting down on her jogging outside as well the time her children spend outdoors.

To maintain the air quality at home at a healthy level, Yang spent 7,000 yuan on two air purifiers, which now run 24 hours a day. "I feel obliged to make my 3-year-old daughter stay at home for most of her leisure time," she said.

The frequency of smoggy days has been widespread from the major northern cities to southern and western regions in China since the beginning of winter.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said earlier that there were three major reasons behind the widespread haze: unfavorable weather conditions making it difficult for pollutants to diffuse, motor vehicle exhaust, and coal consumption for winter heating.

Official data showed that 2013 had the most smoggy days in the past 52 years. Since the beginning of December, at least 25 regions and provinces have reported high pollution levels, particularly of PM2.5, which are tiny floating particles measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. PM2.5 particles are especially hazardous because they can settle in the lungs and cause illnesses such as respiratory problems.


The Nanjing-based e-commerce platform sold about 1 million face masks last year. The increase was most noticeable in November and December. The number of face masks distributed by the online shop's Nanjing warehouse every day increased by three times throughout November. The situation intensified in December. Face masks labeled 3M that can prevent PM2.5 particles were the most popular, with about 50,000 sold in just one week.

In addition, sold some 200,000 air purifiers in 2013, up 300 percent year-on-year. Sales reached their peak in late November, when the number surged by 500 percent year-on-year. The items priced between 3,000 to 4,000 yuan each sold the most.

Air purifiers were no doubt the most popular home appliances sold on last year. The sales of air purifiers surged exponentially by 420 percent on to reach about 1 billion yuan last year.

First-tier cities witnessed the largest sales of air purifiers. They rose by 636 percent in Beijing and 580 percent in Shanghai year-on-year. Zhuang Jia, general manager of the home appliances department of predicted that the sales of air purifiers will at least triple in 2014 to exceed 3 billion yuan.

Concerned by the deteriorating air quality, people's health awareness has been on the rise, especially among those under the age of 35. Sales of water purifiers increased by 210 percent in the northern parts of China, reported.

The number of chronic-disease patients, especially those with respiratory illnesses, will increase rapidly in 2014, according to the Development Trend of the Healthcare Industry in China released by consulting firm Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in late December last year.

"The continuous fog and hazy weather, which was one of the most hotly discussed topics in China last year, will become an important factor affecting the Chinese health care industry in 2014," said Bruce Liu, a partner at Roland Berger and head of the healthcare competence center of Roland Berger Greater China.


Driving in heavy haze is like fishing in a pond with one's bare hands. To secure their safety, a large number of drivers are seriously considering buying automobile insurance. Ping An Insurance (Group) Co of China Ltd, one of the leading insurance companies in China, saw the sales of automobile insurance reach a historic high of 13 million yuan on November 11 last year when Taobao promoted its annual shopping carnival. This was partly related to the concerns of driving safely on smoggy days, according to Ge Ruichao, director of Taobao's finance department.

"When the German insurer Allianz SE rolled out a "moon-gazing" insurance policy before the Mid-Autumn Festival last year, a large number of people came to us to ask when we will come out with insurance related to hazy weather. It is certain that the demand for such insurance in 2014 will remain a hot topic," said Ge.

One of the 10 buzzwords in the Chinese tourism industry is the so-called lung cleaning trips, according to research conducted by China's largest online travel agency at the end of last year.

A large number of people chose to travel to Chinese cities including Sanya, Xiamen, Lijiang and Guilin to avoid the smog, which has haunted most of China for a long time. Phuket Island in Thailand, Bali in Indonesia and Mauritius were also among the most popular tourist destinations.

Ctrip experts predict that lung-cleaning trips will remain popular in 2014 because the situation is not going to change soon.

China Youth Travel Service Shanghai also repackaged some of their products in the last quarter of 2013 to lure more customers. "Quite a large number of people, especially senior citizens, chose to go to Sanya or Kunming for better air quality. Overseas trips to warmer places such as Australia and New Zealand were also more frequently inquired about," said Jia Lili, communications manager of the travel agency.

Even buying a 10,000-yuan air purifier from the United States did not help much for Xia Jing, a 33-year-old housewife in Suzhou in East China's Jiangsu province, because she has two young boys aged 6 and 3. She made the decision to get out of the city in the pursuit of cleaner air after suffering from the poor weather for more than two months.

"We drove to stay at a hotel resort located on Mogan Mountain in Zhejiang province for six days in order to get away from the worsening weather in the city for Christmas and the new year," said Xia.


In the meantime, owning properties away from severely polluted areas is popular among Chinese residents. A commercial residential community developed by Guangzhou-based Agile Property Holdings Ltd in Tengchong, in Yunnan province, Southwest China, saw more than 300 properties sold within one week. Tengchong has more than 310 days throughout the year labeled as good air quality days.

Xia invested in a few apartments in earlier years in different cities as a long-term investment, which eventually brought her some benefits.

"I sent my younger son and my mother to our small apartment in Shenzhen, in Guangdong province, in early December because the air there was a bit better than where we're living now," said Xia.

She added that many of her friends who own properties in the regions with better air quality had already moved out with their families temporarily in order to avoid living among the smog.

Sharing Xia's views, Chen Ye, a mother of a 2-year-old son in Shanghai, sent him and her parents to their apartment in Haikou, in Hainan province, in early December when the air quality was extremely bad.

"I have to work and stay in Shanghai but I should let my child and my parents live in a safer and healthier environment," said Chen.


Xia's ultimate plan is to emigrate as the most effective way of avoiding pollution completely.

"I've got no other choice because I cannot see the air condition being solved in the short term in China, and I have to figure out a quicker way to enhance the living quality of my family," said Xia, who is planning to take the whole family to New Zealand next year.

At the moment, Xia's husband is applying for a permanent visa for New Zealand as a business investor. They expect their visas will be approved within a year.

Xia added that more wealthy Chinese families will be forced to leave the country and live elsewhere where there are blue skies more often in the next decade if the smoggy weather continues.

Meng Jing in Beijing contributed to the story.

Pollution makes some ponder emigration


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