The statistics quoted from the SCMP editorial on the previous post are taken from the Thematic Household Survey on Pattern of Smoking, released by the Hong Kong Department of Health. While the overall number of smokers have decreased, as the editorial points out, the worrying trend is the increase in youth (or underage) smoking and the number of smokers in the female population.
from the SCMP editorial:
Hong Kong’s anti-smoking report card is a cause both for relief and concern. The good news is that the number of people who light up has dropped to an all-time low. The bad news is that more young children may be taking up the habit. Kindergartens are the new battleground in publicity campaigns. The situation is far from reassuring.
According to the Tobacco Control Office, 0.3 per cent of the Primary Four to Six pupils surveyed had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days, up from 0.2 per cent two years ago. The percentage may seem negligible. But that more than 4,000 primary-school children had smoked – nearly half of them before the age of seven – should set the alarm bells ringing. The health risks associated with tobacco have been well recognised. If smoking is taking root as early as childhood, the problem among future generations may worsen.
Our crusade against smoking has come a long way over the past three decades. The decrease in the smoking population – from 23.3 per cent in 1982 to 10.7 per cent last year – owes much to our effective strategies, which include high tobacco duty, a ban on smoking indoors and tight advertising restrictions. They have been instrumental in helping Hong Kong to achieve the lowest ratio of smokers in the Asia-Pacific region. But we should stay alert to the emerging trends of under-age smoking. There is no room for complacency.
In the long run, Hong Kong stands a chance of being declared smoke-free – when the smoking population drops to just 5 per cent. While we are not far off, this can only be achieved with a more targeted approach. There are still 645,000 smokers. More than 60 per cent have never tried to quit. The percentage of those who have no intention of doing so is even higher, at 85 per cent. Officials admit that encouraging smokers to kick the habit is not easy. A more proactive approach is needed to get the message across. Moving towards a smoke-free society should be our next target. Existing measures should be reviewed to help us move forward.
12 Nov 2013
Cigarettes could be sold only in plain packets after a government U-turn on a major public health policy that previously appeared to have been dropped.
In a surprise move the coalition is set to give ministers the power to introduce the policy, although actual implementation will be subject to an evidence review.
The latest volte face came after a cross party group of peers tabled amendments to the children and families bill that would have introduced standardised packaging.
The group, led by Lord Faulkner, were confident of winning the vote in the Lords since they had prestigious medical support in the Lords for the measure.
The evidence review, which will be led by Sir Cyril Chantler, a distinguished doctor, academic and NHS administrator, will report by the end of March.
Subject to its findings, plain packaging could be in force before the 2015 general election.
from ITV news:
The chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said the decision to introduce plain packaging is a “victory for public health” and hailed the “positive impact” of the move in Australia, which introduced standardised packaging almost a year ago.
This decision is a victory for public health, for common sense and for future generations who will as a result be protected from glitzy, colourful and misleading tobacco packaging.
The Government should be given due credit for being willing to listen to Parliament and to the experts and change its mind.
We understand the need for a review of the evidence and we are pleased that this will be carried out with the necessary speed to ensure that it reports early in the Spring.
– Deborah Arnott, Ash chief executive
28 Nov 2013
Tobacco sickens and, eventually, can kill if consumed as intended. Every country, the United States included, should be taking every effective step to prevent smoking.
The costs and benefits of free trade are clear, but, as recent presidents, Republican and Democratic, have recognized, the long-term gains to society outweigh the short-term losses to particular groups. Thus, the United States has wisely pursued pacts to expand free trade with partners around the world.
What to do, however, when free trade and tobacco control seem to be in tension? The question arises in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement that would link the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam and five other countries as never before — spurring global growth and bolstering the United States geopolitically.
Initially, the Obama administration favored a TPP provision exempting individual nations’ tobacco regulations — such as those banning advertising or requiring warning labels — from legal attack as “non-tariff barriers” to the free flow of goods. The idea was that, when it comes to controlling a uniquely dangerous product, there’s no such thing as “protectionism.”
Alas, the United States softened its position at a public meeting of TPP negotiators last month. The new proposal simply specifies that tobacco is included in an existing exemption for policies necessary to protect human life or health, and requires governments to consult before challenging each other’s tobacco rules.
While better than the status quo, in that it might constrain governments from going to bat for domestic tobacco producers, this suggestion would leave tobacco companies free to mount legal challenges to various nations’ policies.
The office of U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman explained the new stance reflected “consultations with Congress and with a wide range of American stakeholders” — a polite reference to pushback from farm-state legislators, farm lobbies and other interest groups that feared a tobacco exception would expand to a health-related excuse for protectionism against many other products.
Though Asian countries have, in the past, discriminated against U.S. beef on trumped-up health grounds, U.S. agriculture’s fears this time are overblown. Tobacco is unique, and everyone knows it. Surely that can be enshrined in an enforceable agreement — which would be easier if all “stakeholders” worked toward an effective compromise instead of attacking Mr. Froman’s attempt as insufficiently protective of U.S. interests, as business interests continue to do.
Tom Bollyky of the Council on Foreign Relations suggests that the office of the trade representative could formally reassure U.S. businesses that supporting tobacco control in the TPP cannot serve as precedent under other circumstances. It could also make an exemption from legal challenge for tobacco-control measures applicable only to those measures that treat domestic and imported products equally. All concerned should strive for a TPP that addresses legitimate concerns of U.S. business — but reflects the unique dangers of smoking both here and abroad.
17 Sep 2013
Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said that Indonesia would finally accede to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) before the end of this year, a major step in the fight against prevalent smoking addiction.
“The treaty accession will be completed through a presidential decree. The President has agreed [to accede to the treaty]. God willing we will accede to the treaty before the end of the year,” Nafsiah said.
As previously reported Nafsiah said that three ministries, namely the Trade Ministry, Industry Ministry and the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, had previously rejected the accession, and added that it would hurt tobacco farmers and reduce the state’s income in tobacco excise, which had a big contribution to the state budget.
“All three ministries have agreed to accede to the treaty. They have agreed that the accession is solely aimed at protecting the public,” Nafsiah told reporters on the sidelines of the closing ceremony of National Health Day on Friday.
According to Nafsiah, the government is currently drafting the text to be submitted to the Foreign Ministry before being signed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
An experimental study looks at the possibility of advanced medical treatment for helping smokers fighting their addiction. From Ian Sample of the Guardian:
Heavy smokers who regularly puffed more than a packet of cigarettes a day cut down or quit for six months after their brains were stimulated with magnets, researchers say.
The apparent success of the simple procedure has led the scientists to organise a large-scale trial which will launch early next year at 15 medical centres worldwide.
Smokers in the pilot study had already tried anti-smoking drugs, nicotine gum and patches or psychotherapy to no avail, raising hopes that magnetic stimulation might offer an effective alternative for those who want to give up but have so far failed.
Nearly half of the smokers in one group, who received high-frequency magnetic pulses, quit after a three-week course of stimulation, with more than a third still abstaining six months on.
“This is a new approach to the problem,” said neuroscientist Abraham Zangen of Ben-Gurion University in Israel. “These are heavy smokers who could not stop smoking before.”
Letter published in the SCMP, from Lisa Lau, chairman, COSH:
A recent report funded by the tobacco industry claimed that the illicit cigarette problem in Hong Kong is serious.
A spokesperson for the study said the key drivers included tobacco tax rises in 2009 and 2011 and strength of enforcement against smuggling by the government. Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) has expressed reservations on its findings and believes there is no causal link between tobacco tax rise and the surge in illegal cigarettes.
The tobacco industry always opposes increases in tobacco levies arguing that they intensify cigarette smuggling activities, but there is no evidence to support this. In fact, smuggling is also found in countries with a lower tobacco tax, like Malaysia (tax accounts for 53.7 per cent of the retail price) and Vietnam (41.59 per cent). Canada and Sweden attempted to combat cigarette smuggling in the 1990s by reducing tobacco tax, resulting in a hike of consumption and contraband cigarettes seizure.
The World Health Organisation believes the most effective measure against smuggling is tight control and aggressive enforcement. Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department is determined to undertake stringent enforcement against illicit cigarette activities. A total of 65 million sticks of illicit cigarettes were seized in the first nine months of this year, an increase of over 30 per cent compared to the same period last year. The most effective way to tackle the root of the problem is to strengthen law enforcement and publicity and educate the public on the illegitimacy of illicit cigarettes.
A significant tobacco tax hike deters young people from starting smoking and encourages smokers to quit. The World Bank claims every 10 per cent increase in the price of a packet of cigarettes results in a 4 per cent decrease in tobacco consumption in high-income regions like Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s tobacco levy accounts for only 65 to 68 per cent of the retail price, which is below the standard suggested by the WHO (at least 70 per cent). Compared to Asia-Pacific countries like Singapore, and EU countries, whose tax is over 70 per cent, Hong Kong’s rate is lenient.
Each year, smoking causes nearly 7,000 deaths in Hong Kong, including 1,324 non-smokers, as well as HK$5.3 billion economic loss.
To save lives, we want the government to implement a progressive and long-term tobacco tax increment policy and strengthen smoking cessation services.
28 Oct 2013
Minister for Health James Reilly said he would be “astonished” if legislation proposing cigarettes be sold only in plain packs did not prompt legal action from the tobacco industry.
He was speaking today after the Cabinet unanimously approved the heads of a Bill which will force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in standardised cartons with graphic health warnings.
The Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013 will outlaw all forms of branding on cigarette packs from trademarks and logos to colours and graphics.
The Bill, which will also determine the size and position of the warnings, will now be submitted for hearings by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for review and report.
The issue of plain packaging for tobacco has come to the forefront, with Scotland following Australia’s legislation to enforce plain packaging on all tobacco products, for which studies conducted by the British Medical Journal has shown to be effective in discouraging smoking. Ria Patel reports for TopNews:
After Australia, Scotland is going to be the second country that is introducing plain packaging for cigarettes. The Scottish Government has announced that the regulation will be active in 2014-15.
Scottish Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said he wants to see Scotland in the forefront when it comes to reducing the harms caused by tobacco.
Matheson informed that the tobacco industry has challenged them. But Matheson affirmed they will remain determined to introduce plain packaging.
“To build a generation free from tobacco it is necessary to restrict the imagery and design that tobacco companies use to pull in another generation to use these addictive and lethal products”, affirmed Matheson.