Hong Kong vendors warn of protests if larger warnings are printed on cigarette packs

If health alerts cover 85 per cent of the surface, the trade fears more smokers will turn to illicit tobacco products

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 6:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 5:52pm

Vendors warn they will protest if the government goes ahead with a plan requiring health warnings on cigarette packets to cover 85 per cent of the surface.

They say the measure, to be fully implemented next April, could hit their business hard because it will boost the trade in illicit tobacco and if the packets are too obscured make it hard to tell if products are counterfeit or not.

The proposal was first submitted by the government in 2015 and an amendment order is expected to be tabled to the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

Bacon Liu Sair-ching, chairman of the Coalition of Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants, said they would try to lobby officials to delay the plan.

“We don’t see what the government can achieve by making the health warning cover 85 per cent of the packaging surface. It will only leave too little room for other information, like the brand of the cigarette,” he said.

If the government really cares about smokers’ health, why does it not ban the sale of cigarettes?
Bacon Liu Sair-ching, Coalition of Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants

“It only brings us more trouble and hits our business. Smokers can simply switch to buying illicit cigarettes. We vendors shall not rule out further protests if the government does not heed our call.”

Liu declined to elaborate, though. “If the government really cares about smokers’ health, why does it not ban the sale of cigarettes?”

The vendors’ opposition coincided on Monday with an open petition by the Coalition on Tobacco Affairs. The coalition expressed regret that the government had not conducted a proper public consultation. It also wanted a longer grace period.

An advocate of smokers’ rights, Mer Lee of the I Smoke Alliance, called the government proposal unreasonable.

“Even if the packaging is 100 per cent covered, smokers will not quit. For non-smokers, they will not buy cigarettes anyway no matter how big or small the size of the health warning.”

Australian health experts urge Hong Kong to adopt plain cigarette packaging

The health warning now covers 50 per cent of the packets and has been in force since 2007.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said of the vendors’ complaints: “Research from overseas studies have shown that graphic health warnings could reduce the attractiveness of smoking, increase efforts to quit and deter young people from smoking.”

The Food and Health Bureau also cited World Health Organisation findings that pictorial health warnings would not increase illicit trading.

Last week a bureau spokesman said the health warnings were a cost-effective way of getting the health message across because of their unparalleled reach among smokers.

The bureau said it had consulted the Legco panel on health services since 2015 and had kept the trade posted on the progress and the implementation of the proposal.