Hong Kong must sustain the war on tobacco even as smoking rates continue to decline

Government should press on with the expansion of no-smoking areas and legislation to enlarge health-warning signs on cigarette packets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 12:55am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 12:55am

Every time the budget comes around so too does the question of raising the tax on tobacco, to deter a community and self-harming habit. So it is a good time to cite recent statistics on the dwindling number who remain addicted. A survey shows the percentage of Hongkongers over 15 who smoke has edged closer to a single digit. Another links a large fall in child hospital admissions for respiratory infections to indoor smoking bans.

Health authorities attribute the decline in smokers to effective tobacco control measures. Along with education and greater awareness, that is no doubt true. This means the anti-smoking lobby will be looking to the financial secretary to raise the tax on cigarettes again, after rises of 50 per cent in 2009, 41.5 per cent in 2011 and 20 cents a cigarette in 2014. The tax on a packet of cigarettes is now 69 per cent.

The percentage of the population who smoke daily fell from 11.8 in 2009 to 10.5 last year, according to a survey of 10,000 households by the Centre for Health Protection. Such a modest decrease may sound unconvincing, but the remaining smokers include a hard core of addicts who will only decline by attrition. Of more importance are potential future addicts, or people aged 15 to 19, among whom the percentage of smokers fell from 2 per cent to 1.1 per cent last year. The aim should be to get it even lower. There is also a need to target female smokers, the percentage of whom rose from 3.1 to 3.2. Experts regard tobacco tax as one of the most effective means to reduce the smoking rate.

A new health argument is to be found in a University of Hong Kong study showing hospital admissions of people under 18 with serious lower respiratory tract infections fell by 47.4 per cent in the first year after smoking bans were extended to all indoor areas of restaurants, workplaces and public venues in 2007, followed by a sustained reduction of 13.9 per cent in the following five years. The government should press on with the expansion of no-smoking areas, such as bus exchanges, and legislation to enlarge health-warning signs on cigarette packets.