Smoking

Next chief executive should back annual tobacco tax hike in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 12:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 10:45am

Your editorial (“Preventive health care is an investment, not a burden”, January 1) has hit the nail on the head regarding the importance of, and investment in, prevention versus cure in Hong Kong.

We all need the “ambulance and curative services” to rescue us when we are taken ill, but unless the whole of government – particularly the finance, trade and economic branches, as well as the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Ombudsman – grasps the political nettle of issues such as tobacco control, health will never improve, nor will the many thousands of annual deaths from tobacco be reduced.

Indeed, the entire Hong Kong government is under an international obligation to do so, being a party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

One of the most important platforms of any incoming chief executive is their future preventive health plan for Hong Kong citizens.

Let us call upon each of the potential chief executive candidates to outline their health platforms. We should discard all those who see these platforms in terms of more hospital beds, which will never solve the problem of improving Hong Kong’s health. And the current health paradigm is such that improvements will only come about by addressing the vested interests of big business – the tobacco, alcohol, food, and even salt industry –including their often unrecognised front groups.

With tobacco control, we have known for decades what works, and how very cost-effective these measures are. Yet governments around the world hesitate to act.

Increasing tobacco tax heads the list of the best single measure to reduce smoking. It may be surprising to many that a fiscal measure is more important than health education in schools or banning sales to youth, for example, but it is the single best action governments can take to reduce consumption among the young.

Why can Hong Kong not follow Australia and New Zealand and commit to an annual tobacco tax increase of, say, 10 per cent per annum to the year 2025?

Any chief executive candidate who would endorse this would get my (hypothetical) vote.

It would give us an orderly and planned route to follow, and avoid the incredible waste of time and energy lobbying annually for tobacco tax increases. And it would have a massive effect in saving young and middle-aged lives, and in what is termed “frailty avoidance” in the elderly.

Dr Judith Mackay, Clear Water Bay