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COSH response to the tobacco control policies proposed by The Budget

Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) expressed disappointment for the decision of the Financial Secretary in The 2015-16 Budget that the tobacco tax will not be raised.

Raising tobacco tax has been proved by World Health Organization and a number of global cases as one of the most effective tobacco control measures. In Hong Kong, calls received by the Integrated Smoking Cessation Hotline of the Department of Health increased drastically after substantial increase in tobacco tax in the past. It was a solid evidence of the effectiveness of tobacco tax on motivating smoking cessation.

According to Dr Hana ROSS, a world-renowned scholar on the economics of tobacco control, the real price of cigarette in Hong Kong from 1989 to 2013 increased by only 25% after deducting inflation. Hong Kong smokers’ affordability on tobacco products is higher than the neighbour countries and other developed regions. COSH, together with the medical institutions, tobacco control organizations and academia, has sent an open letter to the Financial Secretary to call for raising tobacco tax by 100%, so as to prevent children and youth from starting to smoke and encourage smokers to quit.

Mr Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman reiterated, “Hong Kong tobacco tax was frozen most of the time in the past decades and the price effect on reducing tobacco consumption has been diminished. A relatively large increment of tobacco tax in 2009 and 2011 generated immediate and significant impact on encouraging smoking cessation. The mild increase of 11.8% last year, though below the inflation, also motivated some smokers to quit.” Raising tobacco tax is a key measure to lower the smoking prevalence and safeguard the public health for countries even with high tobacco tax rate. For instance, Australia and New Zealand have adopted an annual tobacco tax increase by a fixed rate at 12.5% from 2013-2016 and 10% from 2014-2016 respectively. In order to further reduce the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong, it is necessary to implement a strong and long-term tobacco tax policy and multi-pronged tobacco control measures, such as strengthening smoking cessation services and banning all forms of tobacco advertisements and display of tobacco products.

The tobacco industry and its supporting organizations always express strong opposition against tobacco tax increase under the pretext that it will lead to a surge in illicit cigarette smuggling. They exaggerated the situation of smuggling and misled the public with survey findings sponsored by the tobacco industry. COSH commissioned the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong to make an objective estimation in a scientific way and projected that the consumption of illicit cigarettes in Hong Kong in 2012 ranged from around 8.2% to 15.4% of total consumption, which was far lower than the one-third claimed by the tobacco industry. Hong Kong Customs & Excise Department stated that there was no sign of the deterioration of illicit cigarette market as a result of the increase in tobacco tax. COSH reaffirms that there is no causal link between tobacco tax increase and illicit cigarette smuggling. Opposing tobacco tax to prevent smuggling is skewed and inappropriate. The most effective measure to combat illegal trade of tobacco products is strict enforcement.

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, include increasing resources on smoking cessation services, education, publicity and enforcement against illicit cigarettes. The Government should also introduce a strong and effective policy of tobacco tax and other areas of tobacco control in order to safeguard the public health, reduce the smoking prevalence of Hong Kong to single digit and achieve a smoke-free Hong Kong as soon as possible.

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