Are cigarettes too affordable for China’s young people?

Raising the tax on a packet of smokes steadily to keep the price at US$3.15 can keep Chinese children from smoking, a survey showed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 9:32am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 1:55pm

China can keep children from smoking by raising tobacco taxes continuously to maintain a minimum per-packet retail price of 20 yuan (HK$24.62, US$3.15), according to a survey by the University of International Business and Economics. 

“More than 78 per cent of interviewees said tobacco prices should be raised between 20 and 29 yuan to prevent children from smoking,” said Zheng Rong, director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Tobacco and Economics at the Beijing-based business and economics university. 

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“That means the majority of residents found the current tobacco price too low for children.” 

The university interviewed 3,000 people from seven cities and in different age groups for the survey. 

Cigarettes can be bought for as little as three to five yuan a packet in most of China’s cities and rural areas. 

People can become lifetime smokers by having easy access to cheap cigarettes when they are young, Zheng said. 

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But they are unlikely to acquire the habit if they have not started by 25, she said. 

Tax increases on tobacco are believed to be the single most effective way to control the product’s use. 

Li Jinkui, deputy director of ThinkTank Research Centre for Health Development, said a 15 yuan packet of cigarettes was already considered expensive in rural areas; raising the price above 20 yuan would deter smokers completely. 

China raised tobacco taxes in 2009 and 2015. 

The tax hikes supported a 49 to 56 per cent increase in the price of an average packet of cigarettes from 6.9 yuan to 13.7 yuan. However, the price of low-end cigarettes remained unchanged. 

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The second tax increase – a 4 per cent rise in 2015 – contributed to a 5.6 per cent drop in tobacco use. 

Zheng attributed sales of tobacco last year to increased wealth making cigarettes more affordable. 

We need long-term and continuous tax hikes to increase the tobacco retail price and make it unaffordable for children
Zheng Rong, University of International Business and Economics

“That means we need long-term and continuous tax hikes to increase the tobacco retail price and make it unaffordable for children,” Zheng said. 

China is the world’s largest maker and consumer of cigarettes, with more than 300 million smokers, according to national statistics. 

Some 740 million people, including 180 million children, are affected by second-hand smoke. An estimated one million deaths each year are caused by tobacco, according to WHO statistics. 

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Twenty per cent of junior middle school pupils aged 13 to 15 have used tobacco at some point, according to a national survey done by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014. 

In recent years, the government has introduced restrictions on smoking, including total bans in the activity in certain public places.