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Legislative Council Panel on Health Services – Progress of Tobacco Control Measures

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Tobacco tax passes after bumpy ride

The government on Wednesday saw its controversial bill to raise the tobacco duty by 41.5 percent (or HK$0.50 a cigarette) pass through third reading in the Legislative Council after heated debate.

Thirty-three voted for, 8 against the bill, with 12 abstentions.

The major supporting votes came from the Democratic Party and the Civic Party.

Pro-establishment parties – Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions – abstained from voting.

This increase came after a massive 50 percent rise in tobacco duty in 2009.

The tobacco duty took effect by virtue of a public revenue protection order on Feb 23, the same day when the tax increase was announced.

Had the tax increase been vetoed, the government would have had to refund to cigarette importers and distributors.

Defending the government’s case, Secretary for Food and Health York Chow said the purpose of the tobacco duty increase was to protect public health.

Apart from tax the increase, Chow said the government will increase tobacco control, enhance rehabilitation services and public education to encourage people, especially young people, to smoke less or quit smoking.

The government will subsidize agencies to run for rehabilitation services, while the Hospital Authority will also provide drugs for rehabilitation for free, he said.

Despite the current tax increase, tax only constitutes 70 percent of the cigarette price, which is still a distance from 75 percent advised by the World Health Organization, he said.

Quoting government statistics, he said the number of young smokers decreased by 10 percent after the 2009 tax increase, while the demand for rehabilitation services was also on the rise.

Chow rejected the suggestion that tobacco duty increase would prompt smokers to buy illicit cigarettes, saying the government is determined to crack down on illicit cigarettes.

As to the proposal for a phased tax increase, he argued that a higher increase is a bigger incentive than a phased increase for smokers to smoke less or quit smoking.

DAB lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong, a smoker for over 40 years, said the tax increase will place a heavy financial burden on the poor smokers.

He also worried the tax increase may affect the livelihoods of over 30,000 newsstand operators.

Albert Chan from the People’s Power said elderly, low-income smokers will have financial difficulty buying cigarettes after the tax increase, slamming the government for neglecting the needs of the underprivileged.

But health services constituency lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long said the tax increase will help people to quit smoking.

China Daily

LEGCO Voting on Dutiable Commodities (Amendment Bill 2011) 15 June 2011 Legco Chamber

See who opposed the preventative health measure tobacco tax increase legislation

Download PDF : Legco15June2011Taxcfm

New laws can curb smoking

cigarette_butt_tight_cropLast updated: May 3, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Our neighbours Down Under took a bold step forward regarding tobacco control last week.

The Australian government announced that starting on July 1, 2012, all tobacco companies will be forced to use plain packaging.

At the same time, the tax on cigarettes rose another 25 per cent from midnight, April 29.

This new legislation is an impressive step forward in helping to cut tobacco consumption and curb tobacco-related deaths.

The Australian government believes that the changes will cut the country’s tobacco consumption by 6 per cent. Here in Hong Kong, we appeal to the SAR government to follow suit. Lung cancer directly attributable to smoking still ranks as the leading form of cancer in Hong Kong, with more than 3,600 related deaths recorded every year. As increasing criticism surrounds Hong Kong concerning rising air pollution, this is a window of opportunity to do something positive in safeguarding the health of Hong Kong people.

By taking more drastic measures like the ones announced in Australia last week, we can work towards reducing tobacco deaths and further minimise the burden of cancer in our community.

Sally Lo, founder and chief executive, Hong Kong Cancer Fund

Tommy Cheung joins the call for HK$24 minimum

minimum_wage-increaseLast updated: April 21, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Clear the Air says:

this is from the Liberal Party – can you believe they are interested in the rights of the people , or their rich bosses whom they represent ? The Liberal Party delayed Hong Kong’s anti smoking legislation for 6 long years – how many Hong Kong people died because of that ?

Liberal Party warns of ripple effect of rise in wage level on businesses

Catering industry lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan – who got into hot water last month for suggesting a minimum wage of HK$20 an hour – has joined Liberal Party colleagues in proposing a rate of HK$24.

Cheung and party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee said that even at this level business would be severely affected by a “ripple effect” that would push up wages of workers already earning more than the minimum.

The suggestion was put to the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission yesterday along with one from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions suggesting HK$33.

The Liberal Party estimates that in addition to the 138,200 workers earning less than its suggested minimum, at least 400,000 earning up to HK$33 would also get a pay rise.

“A ripple effect is present anywhere when a minimum wage is introduced,” Lau said, citing the United States and Britain as examples.

“If the wage of a dish washer earning HK$20 per hour is increased to HK$24 per hour, a company also has to increase the wage of a pantry helper who earns HK$23 an hour as well as other workers who earn more than HK$24,” she said after meeting commission members.

“We believe the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission should also assess the impact of the minimum wage on enterprises.”

Liberal Party executive committee member Michael Tien Puk-sun said the wages of various workers would also have to be increased to offer incentives and to distinguish differences in job nature.

The party said its proposed minimum wage was consistent with international levels in terms of the number of workers benefiting and the ratio between the median wage and minimum.

Cheung said that as labour accounted for 30 per cent of costs in the catering industry, it would feel the greatest impact of all industries.

Citing a survey of 49 companies owning 1,867 restaurants with 75,000 workers, he said more than half the city’s restaurants were operating at a loss and pay increases would be a huge burden.

“Setting the rate at no more than HK$24 can forestall the loss of non-technical jobs and a spate of restaurant closures,” he said,

“At the end of the day, we do not want to see businesses shut down and low-skilled workers thrown into the street.”

Cheung dismissed talk that he had bowed to pressure in proposing HK$24 after the outcry that greeted suggestions the wage should be no more than HK$20. A man wearing a pig mask threw a HK$20 note at his feet after he said at a City Forum gathering than any amounts more than that would have a severe impact on Hong Kong’s employment, competitiveness and long-term investment.

After party and business allies distanced themselves from his idea, Cheung apologised on March 24. “I hope to let bygones be bygones,” he said yesterday, adding that the catering industry’s suggestion was made with serious consideration for business operations.

“Is HK$24 per hour enough or not? It is not our concern. What we look at is the influence on restaurants and how to protect the low-skilled workers from losing their jobs,” he said.

The Confederation of Trade Unions also met the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission yesterday and said the statutory minimum wage should be set at no less than HK$33 an hour.

The unions said the impact of such a rate was not as big as many people imagined.

“According to Census and Statistics Department figures, the total labour cost would only be increased by 1.6 per cent and the profit of all enterprises would only be decreased by 0.2 per cent when the minimum wage is set at HK$33 an hour,” the unions said in their proposal submitted to the commission.

“Even for enterprises depending largely on low-income workers, the total labour cost will only be increased by 8.4 per cent.

“We believe enterprises can still shoulder the increase.”

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission was still collecting the views of various parties before announcing the minimum wage in July.

“The commission will consider a number of factors including the minimum wage’s impact on the labour market and business environment, Hong Kong’s competitiveness and living standards,” Cheung said.

Memo to Barbara McDougall: Resign!

Former Conservative cabinet minister Barbara McDougall attends the Munk Debates in Toronto on Dec. 1, 2008.

Last updated: April 13, 2010

Source: The Globe and Mail

If for whatever reason, dear reader, you ever doubt that Canada needs to rid itself of this particular squad of Tories I offer the following from today’s fish wrap:

“The huge charitable foundation run by software czar Bill Gates and his wife has yanked funding from an anti-smoking research project in Africa because of the tobacco industry links of a former Canadian cabinet minister.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s partner on the project is Canada’s International Development Research Centre, a federally funded agency whose chairman is former Tory external affairs minister Barbara McDougall. When the Gates group found out that Ms. McDougall was until last month on the board of directors of Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., it promptly pulled the remaining funds from its initial $5.2-million (U.S.) grant…

The Gates foundation was alerted by the African Tobacco Control Alliance, a Togo-based group that was organizing some of the research project and was set to co-host a conference with IDRC in Dakar, Senegal. Last Wednesday the African group announced it was pulling out of the meeting because of Ms. McDougall’s perceived conflicts, and the Gates foundation followed up by cancelling its funding for the remainder of the project two days later.

Rachel Kitonyo, chair of the ACTA, said in an interview from Nairobi that her group could not continue the work because its constitution forbids it from having any direct or indirect links to the tobacco industry, and it does not want to work with partners that do.”

This is the sort of queasy-making leaden irony that beggars satire. So, I wont even bother trying to be funny. Barbara McDougall is a partisan hack who has embarrassed Canada in the eyes of the world. She should resign today.

Written by Douglas Bell

(File photo: Arantxa Cedillo for The Globe and Mail)

Smoke penalties spark avalanche of quit inquiries – Doctors want tax rise in policy address to cut smoking further

Ng Yuk-hang, SCMP

The number of people trying to quit smoking has more than doubled this year after the government stepped up anti-tobacco measures.

But doctors have urged Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to step up efforts further by increasing the tobacco tax in his coming policy address.

In the first nine months of the year 10,923 people called the Department of Health’s quit-smoking hotline, up from 4,335 in all of last year.

In that time the department’s clinics handled 432 new cases, up from 329 in the whole of last year.

The jump in August, a month before introduction of a HK$1,500 fixed penalty for smoking breaches, was especially dramatic. A total of 922 people called the hotline, compared to just 301 in the same month last year, a 300 per cent increase.

A department spokesman said the callers were mostly aged 30 to 49. Of those who visited the clinics, about 40 per cent successfully quit the habit within a year, on a par with the world’s average.

About 10 cessation clinics, operated by the department, Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and the Hospital Authority, offer a 12-week counselling programme for quitters. Callers to the quit hotline, 1833 183, are attended by a registered nurse trained in counselling quitters.

Smokers can also get information from the department’s website, which was launched in February. The number of visitors peaked in March at 4,326, right after the tobacco tax rose by 50 per cent.

University of Hong Kong School of Public Health director Professor Lam Tai-hing said that although the statistics were “encouraging”, the trend could slow if the government did not impose further measures.

The chief executive should increase tobacco tax by another 10 to 20 per cent in his policy address on Wednesday to set a stronger deterrent, Lam said. “Not everyone can succeed on their first attempt at quitting. If there are no further measures, these people will be drawn back to the habit,” he said.

It was important to let people know that the government was determined to combat tobacco, he said. “Even increasing the tax 1 per cent is better than nothing.”

Meanwhile, more resources should be allocated for services to help smokers quit, he said.

“There cannot be any waiting list in cessation clinics. People will become impatient and forget about the idea altogether,” Lam said.

The city’s smoking rate of 11 per cent was already lower than most developed countries, but the government should not be complacent, the professor said.

“Of these 700,000 smokers, half will eventually die due to smoking. The remaining half will also suffer from different chronic illnesses, burdening the health care system.”

He said a tax increase was the most effective way to encourage quitting, as overseas studies showed each increase could bring the smoking rate down by 4 per cent.

The government should also step up promotion with more advertisements, so that quitters would know where to go, he said.

Smoke Terminators’ Society chairwoman Dr Betty Kwan Ka-mei, who is also a private family doctor, said more of her young patients were trying to quit smoking after the tax increase and the extension of the smoking ban.

“Some cannot afford the price tag and others find it too inconvenient to smoke,” she said.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok flew to Beijing yesterday for an antitobacco conference. He will return tomorrow

On other matters…

In his column (July 1) on the tobacco control movement, or “Tobacco Taleban” as he calls them, Tim Hamlett has missed the point entirely. Tobacco control “fanatics”, according to him, exist just to cause inconvenience and misery to smokers, curbing their rights and exhibiting an “arrogant intolerance for other people’s preferences”.

What about those of us who prefer to go out to public places and not have carcinogenic tobacco smoke blown in our faces and absorbed into our clothes, hair and lungs? When, until now, has our preference been taken into account?
I agree with him on one point. People are entitled to make their own decisions, and to engage in risky behaviour is an individual’s choice.

But a person who jumps off a tower with a cord tied to his ankles, or who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol, is not inflicting his choice on anyone else.

A smoker in a public place is.

Smoke-free areas are not intended to punish smokers. They exist to protect everyone, especially workers who do not choose to be exposed to the risk of developing deadly illnesses.

I am amazed how many people jump on the “freedom of choice” bandwagon and prioritise freedom for smokers above everyone else.

To say that anti-smoking campaigners do not know what makes people smoke and that “they do not care about people” is ludicrous.

The UN’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control calls for advertising bans and increased taxes because, in a nutshell, the illusion of glamour and cheap cigarettes is what encourages people to start.

Neither do these campaigners see smokers as “dumb”. Smokers are the victims of a corrupt tobacco industry whose despicable tactics are well documented, including giving free cigarettes to children in developing countries, deliberately increasing nicotine levels to increase addiction (where’s the choice in that?), paying for smoking scenes in movies and bribing scientists to manipulate findings.

All for a product that, if it was new on the market today, governments would not hesitate to ban. I would have thought that as an academic, Hamlett would be more familiar with the large body of evidence these “fanatics” have hugely in their favour.

Ellie Rampton, Sai Kung

Smokers butt out in bars, clubs, mahjong and massage joints

Danny Mok and Dan Kadison, SCMP

Ashes to ashes. Smoking inside Hong Kong’s bars, nightclubs, clubs, mahjong parlours, massage establishments and bathhouses should now be just a hazy memory.

At midnight, it was the beginning of a new smoke-free era.

In Wan Chai, bars immediately began enforcing the law.

The air was clean inside Spicy Fingers, Mes Amis and the Bull and Bear pub. Ashtrays were pulled at Carnegie’s bar, a manager said. “If they still smoke inside, then they’ll be the one to get a fine,” he said. “All we can do is tell them [customers] not to smoke and take away the ashtrays.”

Offenders caught smoking in any venue where smoking is not allowed can be fined up to HK$5,000.

A smoking ban has been in place in most indoor and public areas since January 2007, although bars, nightclubs, bathhouses, mahjong rooms and massage parlours were granted an exemption until today.

All smokers interviewed early this morning took the ban in stride, but the day before people aired their mixed feelings.
Liz Tse turned 28 yesterday, and spent part of her birthday at Coyote Bar & Grill in Wan Chai with her younger sister and a friend. The ban “sucks”, she said. “Worst birthday gift ever. I don’t get the point. Smoking is legal, but smoking in a bar or restaurant is illegal. The concept is a little messed up.”

Almost all owners of late-night venues have said they will comply with the law, although some will not enforce the ban.
Back in Wan Chai yesterday, Oliver Wu, 50, was having a smoke and a beer at Joe Bananas. “They’re twins – cigarettes and beer,” said the toy manufacturer from Discovery Bay. “They’re like chopsticks – without one, what can we do?”

Hong Kong Tobacco Control Office head Ronald Lam Man-kin told the Post last week that more than 80 inspectors would work around the clock to investigate complaints from their hotline – 2961 8823. Only offenders caught smoking would receive summonses, he said.

Andrew Cameron, 44, gave up cigarettes six years ago. The property development company director was sitting at the bar at Carnegie’s and called smoking “a filthy habit”.

He made a toast to Hong Kong. “Here’s to a smoke-free future,” he said. “No more going home smelling like a dirty old ashtray.” He raised his beer, and drank to that.

Hong Kong workers fume over smoking ban

By David Watkins – AFP

Chris Cheung’s Hong Kong mahjong parlour is notable for two things: the incessant clatter of playing tiles and the thick fog of cigarette smoke shrouding the stony-faced gamblers.

“People come here to play and to smoke,” said Cheung. “It’s always been the tradition to do both together.”

For everyone involved here — from the staff ferrying free drinks and cigarettes to the players themselves — the marriage between the Chinese gambling game and smoking is one that shouldn’t be broken.

Nevertheless, it is about to be.

Hong Kong’s government is set to enforce a blanket smoking ban in public places from July 1, aimed at protecting workers in the city’s bars, nightclubs, bathhouses, massage establishments and mahjong parlours from second-hand smoke.

Yet many workers regard the legislation as a death-knell amid a recession that has pushed the city’s unemployment rate up to 5.3 percent. Bars have reported a drop in business as the slowdown bites.

“With the financial crisis, swine flu and now the smoking ban, it’s a perfect storm of trouble for the entertainment sector in Hong Kong,” said Lawrence Ho, who has run a bar here for 18 years.

“People are more worried about short-term job security than long-term health, because a ban is likely to make thousands unemployed.”

The Entertainment Business Rights Concern group, a lobbying organisation, says 95 percent of the nearly 100,000 owners and workers it represents fear they will lose their jobs if the ban is enforced.

The organisation points to studies conducted in Britain that say bar and pub business declined by around 15 percent in the two years after smoking bans.

Suzanne Wu, from the Secretary, Catering and Hotels Industries Employees General Union, said workers were divided.
“It is very difficult to unify the opinion as different employees have different concern. But for long-term benefit, we (the union) support the implementation of the smoking ban,” she told AFP.

For Cheung, business at his mahjong parlour is already down 30 percent from the previous year and he says a smoking ban will compound his losses.

“If you are playing mahjong with three strangers with money at stake, you can?t ask them to wait five minutes while you go out for a smoke,” he said.

Hong Kong banned smoking in public places such as schools, beaches, restaurants and karaoke bars in 2007, but the legislation was deferred for two-and-a-half years for certain establishments.

Now that the ban is about to be enforced, some are asking for more time and have even organised demonstrations.
“The current economic situation in Hong Kong is very bad and these people think they won’t survive a smoking ban on top of it,” said legislator Paul Tse, who supports a two-year deferment.

The government points to Census and Statistics Department figures that show restaurant business is up 30 percent since the ban was enforced two years ago.

“A number of establishments have attracted guests who are non-smokers or dislike second-hand smoke after the implementation of the ban,” it said in a statement.

While cities such as New York and London have adapted to smoking bans, business owners here say Hong Kong?s high-rise living makes the issue more problematic.

Anita To owns two bars on the 20th floor of a building in the city?s nightlife district of Causeway Bay and says she fears customers won?t come back after they have dropped down to street level for a cigarette.

“A large percentage of my customers are smokers and I don?t think on July 1 they will quit smoking,” she said. “Business is already down 50 percent and I think the ban will just kill me off.”

Critics say the government?s watered-down introduction two years ago has caused the problems.

“It has brought confusion and challenges to the law, great expense and effort for the health and legal authorities, and bar workers continuing to be exposed to dangerous smoke,” said Judith Mackay, a Hong Kong-based advisor for the World Lung Foundation.

And crucially it has delayed the tough new legislation until the fear of unemployment takes priority over the health of workers.
“Some of my staff have been breathing second-hand smoke for 30 years,” said Cheung. “Right now they?d rather keep their jobs.”