Smokers left feeling the pinch as tobacco tax increased by 41.5pc

The price of cigarettes rose by HK$10 a pack, with the government increasing tobacco tax by 41.5 per cent in the hope it will persuade more people to quit.

The measure was welcomed by anti-tobacco groups.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah announced that tobacco tax had been raised immediately to HK$1.70 per cigarette from HK$1.20.

Tsang said HK$26 million would be spent on an anti-smoking campaign, of which HK$21 million would go to set up services encouraging people to quit.

A pack of cigarettes now costs, on average, about HK$50, of which 69.8 per cent is tax, up from about 62 per cent before the budget.

But even after the latest duty increase, Hong Kong is still short of the 75 per cent recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Anti-tobacco groups were happy nevertheless. 'This budget will save lives. Smoking kills 6,000 people in Hong Kong every year,' said Professor Judith Mackay, a policy adviser to the WHO.

Professor Lam Tai-hing, director of the University of Hong Kong's school of public health, said the tax increase could act as a powerful incentive for smokers, particularly the poorer ones, to quit. 'If they smoke a pack of cigarette a day, tobacco tax would cost them more than HK$10,000 a year,' he said.

The head of the University of Hong Kong's school of nursing, Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee - who runs hotlines that help people to quit the habit - said they expected to see double the number of people calling in for help. The centre has arranged more staff to man the hotline.

One smoker said the increase had left her with a problem.

'Now a pack costs HK$50. Should I buy cigarettes or a meal?' asked Lee Mer, convenor of the I Smoke Alliance.

Convenience stores started stocking up cigarettes before the budget was announced, in anticipation of a duty increase.

One 7-Eleven store manager said they were told on Monday by the management to keep one-third of their cigarette supplies.