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COSH’s response to the latest smoking prevalence of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) expressed concerns and worries over the latest announced smoking prevalence of Hong Kong at 10.2%, a slight increase from 10.0% in 2017. Mr Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman said, “The smoking prevalence was on a downward trend since the early 1980s. The slight increase over the past two years despite it has remained low, as well as a sharp rise in number of people using e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn (HNB) tobacco products are clear warning signals for tobacco control development. In particular, the tobacco tax has been frozen in the past six consecutive years. Meanwhile, the Legislative Council discontinued its scrutiny work on the Bill of a total ban on alternative smoking products lately. COSH was worried that the current tobacco control policies are insufficient to reduce the smoking prevalence and the rate will further climb up, so we hereby advocate the Government to conduct a comprehensive review on the tobacco control policies as well as define bold schedules for Tobacco Endgame.”

According to the Thematic Household Survey Report No. 70 released by Census and Statistics Department today, the prevalence of daily cigarette smokers of Hong Kong (aged 15 and over) is 10.2% in 2019 which is equivalent to around 637,900 persons. The smoking prevalence of male and female daily cigarette smokers were 18.1% and 3.2% respectively. The rate of females rebounded from 2.7% in 2017 to the current rate of 3.2%. There were around 20,300 daily users of e-cigarettes and HNB tobacco products, which is equal to 3.1% of daily smokers and a 2.5-fold increase as compared to 2017. Besides, a school-based survey on smoking was conducted by the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong during October 2018 to July 2019. It was found that the ever use rates of heated tobacco product among primary school students and secondary school students were 0.8% and 2.3% respectively, which is alarming.

COSH has been advocating a 100% tobacco tax hike since 2013 for seven consecutive years. However, the tobacco tax has no substantial increase after a 41.8% hike in 2011 and has been frozen for the sixth consecutive years. This further weakened the price effect on reducing the demand for tobacco. Increasing tobacco tax has been proved as the single most effective measure to reduce tobacco use by World Health Organization (WHO). Despite the WHO’s recommendation that tobacco tax should be increased to at least 75% of the retail price, the tax of major cigarette brands in Hong Kong accounts for only around 63% of the retail price. Therefore, COSH strongly recommends the Government to raise tobacco tax substantially for the coming financial year and impose subsequent annual tax hike, in order to combat any possible rise in smoking rate by reducing the tobacco consumption and motivating smokers to quit smoking. Otherwise, it would be destroying the collaborative efforts of different sectors over the years.

On the other hand, the Bills Committee of the Legislative Council discontinued its scrutiny work on the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2019 on 2 June which was proposed to prohibit the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertisement of alternative smoking products including electronic cigarettes, HNB tobacco products and herbal cigarettes. The delay in legislation would bring adverse impacts on public health. COSH urges the Government and Legislative Council to resume the legislation work as soon as possible, and include the conventional cigarettes in the legislative framework as well to contain the proliferation of tobacco use.

Notwithstanding the challenges in tobacco control, COSH will continue strengthening the efforts in education and publicity to motivate more smokers to quit smoking for safeguarding public health. Meanwhile, COSH advocates the Government to develop blueprint and time schedule for Tobacco Endgame goal. Apart from substantial increases in tobacco tax and a total ban on alternative smoking products, we urge the Government to strengthen the current tobacco control policies at all fronts including banning tobacco product display at points of sale, extension of smoke-free areas, placing legal onus on venue managers for smoking offences, increasing the legal tobacco sales age, tightening enforcement, as well as allocating more resources for smoking cessation services and smoke-free education in order to lower the smoking prevalence to 5% or below, and hence will achieve the goal as soon as possible.
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