Increased health education and more liberal sexual mores are being cited as some of the reasons why China as a nation has turned to the condom.

And it's a trend that has plenty of people smiling.

First, of course, are the condom makers themselves.

According to reports in the Chinese media this week - in stories linked to World AIDS Day on December 1 - China will produce more than six billion condoms this year.

The country's largest condom maker - Gobon Latex Products Manufactory - will alone account for more than 710 million, of which the company says the Chinese government purchases around 30 percent.

And more than half of that 710 million will head overseas to Europe, the United States and Africa, the company says.

In 2006, the Chinese condom market was worth six billion yuan (583 million euros) and reports say it is estimated to reach 30 billion yuan (three billion euros) by 2010.

Health workers too are happy, with the government continuing to pass out its condom stockpile for free - in 2006 alone the Chinese government handed out 1.7 billion of them for no charge at all.

And then there are the common people.

In 2006, Chinese bought around two billion condoms of their own - fourth in the world behind the United Kingdom, the US and Japan. But sales in China have grown by 15 percent every year since.

One of the reasons why is that the nation is spoilt for choice. There are more than 120 condom manufacturers in China, and they output around 2,000 different brands.

And another is a growing acknowledgement of the role of the condom in modern life.

"Several years ago, when consumers were selecting condoms, they did it in a most covert way,'' said one saleslady, quoted in the China Daily newspaper.

"Now, there are couples overtly selecting condoms together.''

Maybe the final word should go to Tao Ran who counts among his titles the deputy director of the China Rubber Industry Association and president of Gobon.

"The condom market in China,'' he said, simply. "Is booming.''