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COSH’s response to the tobacco control policies proposed by the Budget
Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) was extremely disappointed with the decision of the Financial Secretary not to raise the tobacco tax in the 2020-21 Budget. Mr Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman emphasized, “Increasing tobacco tax has been proved as the single most effective measure to reduce tobacco use which can motivate smokers to quit and prevent smoking uptake in adolescents. Tobacco tax has been frozen in most years over the past decade and in the past five consecutive years. If the tax level does not increase, tobacco products become increasingly affordable and the price effect on reducing demand for tobacco would be further weakened.”

In January 2020, COSH organized a joint press conference with tobacco control groups, academia, medical and healthcare professionals, parents and education sectors, patient and quitter groups, and also sent an open letter to the Financial Secretary together with 79 organizations (click here to read the open letter) to urge the Government to raise tobacco tax substantially by 100% in FY2020-2021, as well as to increase annual tax subsequently in order to accelerate smoking reduction and safeguard public health. Local data has also proved that substantial increase in tobacco tax could motivate smokers’ intention to quit. Tobacco tax in Hong Kong was increased by 50% in FY2009-2010 and 41.5% in FY2011-2012 and generated a 258% and 49% increase respectively, in the number of calls to the Integrated Smoking Cessation Hotline.

The cigarette price of a pack of the major brands in Hong Kong is about HK$59, and the tobacco tax accounts for only about 64% of the retail price. Comparing the affordability of cigarettes (i.e. cigarette price in real terms in relation to income and purchasing power), many places rank ahead of Hong Kong, including developed countries such as Australia (about HK$161), New Zealand (about HK$146), the United Kingdom (about HK$101) and Canada (about HK$84). It demonstrates the capacity for the increase in cigarette price in Hong Kong. Hong Kong should follow the global trend for subsequent significant and regular tax increase to curb with the tobacco epidemic.

Smoking prevalence in Hong Kong is currently 10.0%, to achieve the Government’s target of reducing smoking prevalence to 7.8% by 2025, as well as the Tobacco Endgame goal promptly, annual and substantial tobacco tax increase is essential. COSH also urges the Government to strengthen the multi-pronged tobacco control measures with defined schedules, including total ban on alternative smoking products, implementation of plain packaging, banning all tobacco product display at points of sale, extension of smoke-free areas and placing legal onus on venue managers for smoking offences, increasing the legal tobacco sales age to 21, tightening enforcement, as well as allocation of more resources for smoking cessation services and smoke-free education.
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