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Advocate for a substantial tobacco tax increase to lower the smoking prevalence quickly in Hong Kong
2015.01.07
Raising tobacco tax is one of the most effective tobacco control measures in encouraging smokers to kick the habit and preventing children and teenagers from picking up smoking. According to the Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey 2014 conducted by Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH), the respondents commented that the cigarette retail price should be increased to HK$106 per pack on average (current retail price is around HK$55) to effectively motivate smokers to quit smoking. COSH Chairman Mr Antonio KWONG advocates the Government for raising the tobacco tax substantially by 100% in 2015-16 fiscal year to lower the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to single digit in one to two years and protect public health.

COSH has conducted the Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey every year since 2012 to collect public opinions, as well as to provide direction and support to review and strengthen the current policies. Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey 2014 interviewed 2,419 citizens including 819 never smokers, 800 ex-smokers and 800 current smokers by telephone through random sampling during May to September 2014. The findings showed that overall respondents thought the cigarette retail price should reach HK$106 per pack on average to effectively motivate the smokers to quit while the current smokers commented that the price should be increased to HK$171, which was much higher than the ex-smokers (HK$123) and never smokers (HK$98). It was also found that over 70% (72.9%) of the respondents supported raising tobacco tax annually, which was higher than the figure in 2013 (65.3%).

The Government raised the tobacco tax by only 20 cents per stick in 2014-15 fiscal year, which was around 11.8%. Over 65% (65.3%) of the respondents commented that the increment failed to encourage smokers to kick the habit. The Government should raise the tobacco tax substantially to encourage smoking cessation.

The tobacco industry and its allies always express strong opposition against tobacco tax increase under the pretext that it will lead to a surge in cigarette smuggling activities. As recommended by the World Health Organization, the most effective measure against smuggling is tight control and aggressive enforcement. A recent study claimed that illicit cigarettes proliferated in Hong Kong and composed for over 30% of cigarette consumption in two consecutive years. COSH expressed reservation on the results of this tobacco industry-funded study. The data collection methods and calculations of the study were unclear using dubious methods.

COSH commissioned the School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong to make an alternative estimation of illicit cigarette consumption in Hong Kong in a scientific way with transparent and testable assumptions last year. It was estimated that the consumption of illicit cigarettes in Hong Kong ranged from around 8.2% to 15.4% of total consumption. Prof LAM Tai-hing, Chair Professor of Community Medicine cum Sir Robert Kotewall Professor in Public Health, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong says, “The estimation was based on reliable data from government departments including Census and Statistics Department, Customs and Excise Department and Tourism Board. The abstract received wide recognition and was published in Tobacco Control of British Medical Journal.”

Many researches proved that one in every two smokers will die early from smoking, and for those who started smoking at young age and have smoked heavily for years, 2 out of 3 could be killed. Smoking has been causally linked to diseases of nearly all organs according to the United States Surgeon Report 2014. The current smoking prevalence in Hong Kong stands at 10.7%. Although it is among the lowest in the world, there are still nearly 645,000 daily smokers. Smoking and secondhand smoke are responsible for around 7,000 deaths and more than HK$5.3 billion economic loss annually in Hong Kong. COSH urges the Government to strengthen the multi-pronged tobacco control measures to protect public health, including raising tobacco tax substantially, increasing resources on smoking cessation services, education, publicity and enforcement against illicit cigarettes. It is hoped to further reduce the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to single digit in one to two years.

Photo caption:

COSH advocates the Government for raising tobacco tax substantially by 100% to lower the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to single digit in one to two years.


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