• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 10:09am
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong can go further to quit smoking, says WHO official

Expected tax increase would only make up for inflation since last rise, head of regional anti-smoking office says ahead of Wednesday's budget

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 6:04pm

Meeting the recommended international standard for tobacco tax is not enough for Hong Kong - it can and should go further, a World Health Organisation official said ahead of an expected increase in the cost of smoking in Wednesday's budget.

Dr Carmen Audera-Lopez, acting team leader of the WHO's tobacco-free initiative in the Western Pacific region, said an expected increase in tobacco tax would only make up for inflation since the last rise in 2011.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is expected to increase the flat HK$34 duty on a pack of 20 cigarettes by between HK$4 and HK$8, meaning that the tax rate would be above the WHO recommended rate of 70 per cent on all brands, an increase of between 11 and 24 per cent. Mainland brands like Double Happiness sell for about HK$43 per pack, with international brands such as Camel costing HK$50 to HK$52.

"The Hong Kong government has the capacity to go higher." Audera-Lopez said. "The suggested tax increase is only a moderate one and considering that it has not been increased since 2011, it is probably just compensating for inflation."

For tax rises to work, she said, they must be regular and make the habit less affordable.

Encouraging governments to increase tobacco taxes will be the theme of World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

Anti-smoking campaigners had pressed the government to go much further, with some suggesting the duty be doubled.

Lam Tai-hing, chair professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said experiences from other regions showed that drastic tax measures were needed to make an impact. Doubling tax could lead to a fall of one percentage point in the proportion of the population who smoked, he said.

The most drastic tobacco-tax increase in Hong Kong's history came in 1983, when duty went up 300 per cent. The proportion of smokers fell from 23.3 per cent of Hongkongers aged 15 or over the year before, to 19.9 per cent afterwards. When the tax was doubled in 1991, the proportion fell from 15.7 per cent to 14.9 per cent.

"The two major tax increases in the past were important factors in reaching our low smoking population today," he said. About 10.7 per cent of adult Hongkongers smoke, some 650,000 people, one of the lowest rates in the developed world. The rate on the mainland is more than three times as high.

The success is such that the city's Tobacco Control Centre was appointed by the WHO to train professionals from around the region in fighting smoking.

But Lam sees no grounds for complacency. "We're worried that if the scope of the tax increase is not enough, people will look at the outcome and say the effects are not big," he said.

The charity Lok Sin Tong interviewed 100 smokers who refused to accept its smoking cessation services when offered in an outreach programme.

Some 15 per cent said a rise of 24 per cent would make them quit, while 20 per cent would not quit no matter how high taxes went. Lam said the findings were in line with his experience.

Audera-Lopez says a tax increase would have the biggest effect on young smokers.

"Children and adolescents are also more sensitive to price increases than adults," she said. Some 2 per cent of Hongkongers aged 15 to 19 smoked in 2012, a household survey by the Census and Statistics Department found, down from 2.4 per cent in 2007.

But even a modest tax increase is expected to face opposition in the Legislative Council. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has already come out against it, and the League of Social Democrats' "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung cast doubt on the government's claims of success against smoking.

"When you're asking about something that's taboo in society, people won't tell you they're doing it," said Leung, a smoker for 40 years. He believes a tax increase will push smokers towards illicit cigarettes.

The number of smuggled cigarettes seized by customs was up 41 per cent year on year in 2013, to more than 38 million.

The Coalition on Tobacco Affairs, an industry-funded lobby group, urged the government to tackle the illicit trade before raising tax, and to keep duty increases moderate to avoid a "shock effect" that drove smokers to the black market.


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Why going that far? Why banning smoking? Hong Kong is a free city after all and the current legislation and taxes are penalizing enough for the smokers. Preventing youth smoking does not yield to banning as there is already existing legislation banning the sale of cigarette to the youth. Why I am not a smoker, I don't particular hate people smoking so long as they are smoking in public area with good ventilation. Why I know smoking can cause lung cancer, there are so many other things that can have the same if not more severe effect - car (especially bus) emission. Should we ban all cars and force ourselves to walk? Pornography is vice - should we ban all **** magazines in circulations? I must say WHO seems to say a lot of words on how government should regulate their citizens, yet, the city is not ruled by WHO. We don't need to be perfect by their arbitrary standard which means nothing at all.
No one is suggesting a ban on smoking! Whatever gave you that idea?
The theme of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May 2014 is tobacco tax – so important a measure it is to prevent youth smoking. Yet will HK take any notice on this and raise the tobacco tax in the budget? The WHO experts here clearly state that raising tobacco price through increased taxation, is a cost-effective, researched and proven intervention. This is why the tobacco industry and its allies come in with guns blazing to prevent a tax increase at all cost. It would be unthinkable for the government to take into account the views of heroin pushes in its drugs strategies, yet smoking kills FAR FAR FAR more in HK than heroin ever does.
Why did this very government allow cigarettes in the first place? They approve it first because they get tax then they don't like it then they put more tax WTF!! Does this government have any moral basis for its laws ??? Why was football betting illegal before and now legal, just because the government gets TAX from this **** too! Huh ... to hell with such laws.
I would like to bring this matter to your attention that while you may call for increase in cigarette tax to be doubled, you have no consideration to the city's poor nor their health. In fact, alcohol has far far damaging effects on your society and indeed much more immediate and long term DISASTROUS consequences on the individual, family, work, society and also humanity, however, NEVER have you protested against the governments complete scrapping of wine tax and keeping alcohol being so easily available and so cheaply, too. Does not your science tell you that alcohol has far reaching effects on health immediately but cigarettes only have long term and very subtle immediate effects on individual. Just because there is smoke coming out or there are some smokers who smoke at the bus stop does not allow you or the government to punish all smokers, only the guilty should be punished. For what reason did you call for doubling tax increase on cigarettes? How about increase in tax of 1000% for alcohol and 2000% increase in penalty for drink drivers and drunk rapists, or anyone who commits a crime while drunk and 3000% increase in insurance premium for alcohol drinkers and extra fee payment for people coming to public hospital for drink related problems? If health is indeed your concern that put alcohol also in the same basket as cigarettes.
The Coalition on Tobacco Affairs, an industry-funded lobby group, urged the government to tackle the illicit trade before raising tax, and to keep duty increases moderate to avoid a "shock effect" that drove smokers to the black market.
fine. triple the penalty of selling and buying illicit tobacco. satisfied?
The tobacco companies survive on replacement smokers addicted before the age of 19.
One in every two nicotine addicts is killed by smoking.
Stopping youth from starting their addiction by way of Excise tax rendering the product unaffordable to them means the tobacco business would literally die off.
Elsewhere tobacco tax is directed towards smoking treatment & prevention - here it is used in the General Fund to pour concrete & with a massively (deliberately) understaffed Tobacco Control Office that cannot patrol & only attend complaint sites days later after the event.
HKG takes less than $5 billion in excise tax per annum which is less than the treatment costs of tobacco related diseases that also clog hospital beds & reduce productivity. The cost of tobacco to society incl loss of life in HKG 1999 was $72 billion per annum.(HKU Dept Comm Medicine)
Even the Financial 'Middle Class' duffer should see something wrong there.
Obviously he DNGAF about our youth addiction that these baxtards are allowed to get away with murder instead of suing them for the costs of treatment as happened in USA & Canada & which is being contemplated elsewhere
To believe that politicians levy these taxes because of compassion or a genuine wish to see people stop smoking is just ridiculous. They would actually hate to see people stop smoking as it would hit their revenues. If these bureaucrats would care about peoples health they wouldn't ban e-cigarettes. But then again, that would really upset the tobacco corporations. And the cigarette mafias.
I totally agree! The increase of tobacco taxes must exceed inflation. And stop listening to the tobacco lobby! Think of all the people who will get lung cancers, heart disease, chronic lung disease in the future -- tax payers will have to fund their expensive treatment.


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