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Dr Judith Mackay

Sunday Interview: Dr Mackay, tobacco industry’s worst nightmare

ANTI-TOBACCO advocate Professor Dr Judith Longstaff Mackay has been identified as ‘one of the three most dangerous people in the world’ by the industry. She was instrumental in developing the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In her recent visit to Malaysia, she shares her experience campaigning against tobacco in Asia since 1984.

“I HAVE been described as a ‘psychotic human garbage, a gibbering Satan, an insane psychotic, power-lusting piece of meat, Hitler and a nanny’ and they (the tobacco industry allies) threatened to destroy me. But such threats and offensive words never once diverted me from my cause,” says Professor Dr Judith Longstaff Mackay.

Dr Mackay, 73, wears many hats. The World Health Organisation (WHO) senior policy adviser is also senior adviser to Vital Strategies, part of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco and director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control.

Her recent visit was part of her capacity as a visiting professor at the University Malaya Centre of Addiction Sciences.

A recipient of British Medical Journal Lifetime Achievement Award (2009) and a Special Award for Outstanding Contribution on Tobacco Control (2014), she has published 200 papers, and addressed over 460 conferences on tobacco control.

Dr Mackay has received many international awards in recognition of her contribution on tobacco control. She was selected as one of Time’s 60 Asian Heroes (2006) and of Time’s 100 World’s Most Influential People (2007).

Question: Born in Britain, you moved to Hong Kong in 1967 after earning a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1966. What led to your resignation as a physician in 1984, and then becoming a leading campaigner and advocate for tobacco control for the last 30 years?

Answer: I had a complete career change from cure to prevention and there were three main reasons for making the shift.

First, when I was working in a hospital in Hong Kong, we had a maxim on our male medical wards that every person we admitted was a smoker with tobacco illnesses, like heart diseases, cancer and chronic chest problems, which were often too late and too advanced to be cured.

I realised we had to go a step “higher upstream” to prevent this rather than merely providing the ambulance services at the end-stage.

I came to feel that hospital medicine was important but it works like a band-aid in comparison with prevention.

You may be able to save hundreds of lives in a lifetime in hospital medicine, but millions of lives could be saved if you work in prevention. It is a completely different ball game, and yet the money, prestige and attention all go to curative medicine; and that is similar around the world.

Second, was the realisation that although women’s health those days was defined very gynaecologically, more women were being killed by tobacco than by every method of contraception combined. I was particularly concerned that the tobacco industry was enticing women with promises of beauty, fame, emancipation and freedom.

The third reason was that the tobacco industry felt Asia was theirs for the taking.

They said it themselves — when asked about their future in the 1980s, “What do we want? We want Asia”.

Q: Why did the tobacco industry had their eyes set on Asia?

A: They wanted the huge populations and the large number of men already smoking who could be persuaded to smoke their brands of cigarettes.

They galloped into Asia with the dream of converting the 60 per cent of men who smoked local cigarettes to switch to international brands, and the second dream of persuading Asian women to start smoking. If this happened, their markets would be enormous.

It would not matter if every smoker in Britain stopped smoking tomorrow if they could capture the massive Asian markets.

Also, Asia was becoming more affluent, so, it was easier for people to afford cigarettes.

Thirdly, when I wrote an article in the South China Morning Post on banning cigarette advertising, a tobacco giant came down on me and labelled me as “entirely unrepresentative and unaccountable”.

The tobacco industry claimed that they were the best source of information on tobacco and they even said it has not been proven that “illness was actually caused by smoking”.

I was so outraged that it was just one of those tipping points in life in 1984. Everything came together and I realised that I really had to work on prevention rather than cure.

Ever since, I have been working principally with governments on the policy level to try and get the tax and the laws in place in tobacco control.

Q: You are known as one of the three most dangerous people in the world by the tobacco industry. What do you have to say about this?

A: Well yes, I’m proud of that. The reason that I got that title was essentially location. I happen to be in Asia and the tobacco companies wanted Asia. They saw this region as their future, but I set about thwarting their goals.

I went early on to countries like China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia and more recently to North Korea upon learning that British American Tobacco had gone into the country to get laws in place.

Q: In campaigning against tobacco use, what are some of the challenges you have faced?

A: I have had many problems, and was subjected to verbal abuse and even had death threats from allies of the tobacco industry.

Twice, I was threatened by the tobacco industry publicly, saying they would take me to court.

Nothing came of it, so it was either an attempt to intimidate me or to cast doubt on my credibility in the minds of the public.

In a television interview in South Africa, I openly said “I’m not a suicidal type, and if I were to be found knocked down by a bus, you need to find out if the tobacco industry is behind it before you look anywhere else.” And the industry was apparently furious with me for saying that.

However, their tactic now is not so much to attack people individually, but to threaten governments.

They threaten them under Constitutional Law on the rights of their products to advertise, and on freedom of speech and they attack them under trade treaties.

This is intimidating to governments and it can cost anything up to US$50 million (RM214 million) to fight these threats.

Q: You were one of the key persons in formulating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first international treaty on public health. Malaysia is currently drafting the Control of Tobacco and Smoking Bill after lobbying for it since 2004 and they have sought your expertise. What do you have to say about this?

A: If you look at Malaysia and Hong Kong, many of the things that these two jurisdictions have done in the last 30 years are similar, yet Hong Kong has managed to half its male smoking rate.

Hong Kong is down to 10 per cent smokers now, whereas prevalence rates in Malaysia have not really decreased (at around 22.8 per cent). I understand it is not something that can be done overnight.

But the fact that the prevalence has not decreased is either because the excise tax imposed on cigarettes is not high enough, or that the laws that have been passed are not being enforced. In the case of the tobacco bill, the tobacco industry has been an unseen hand behind the scenes.

Q: The Health Ministry plans to increase prices of cigarettes from RM17 to RM21.50 in the near future to deter people from smoking. Several industry players were quick to say that increasing the tax would only lead to increased sales of illicit cigarettes. Is this true? What is the link between the increase in excise tax and contraband cigarettes?

A: There is zero truth in this. This sounds to me suspiciously just like what the tobacco industry would say. Economists, tax, finance and customs officials know, or they should know, that putting up a tobacco tax is not related to any increase in smuggling.

Our Customs chief in Hong Kong, for example, had said quite categorically there is no relationship between the amount of tax that is put in place and smuggling, and that is the position of the WHO too. But the tobacco industry keeps repeating it so often that some governments have come to believe it.

This is one of their tactics. A United States-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) has been going around the world, saying “don’t put up the tax, otherwise, there will be a rise in illicit cigarettes”. What many governments do not realise is that it is funded by the tobacco industry.

Q: WHO proposes that the tax imposed on cigarettes should be at least 75 per cent of the retail price. How efficient would this be in reducing smoking prevalence particularly among Malaysia’s young as compared with other measures, such as school education programmes?

A: Ten experts from around the world were present at a conference held in Hong Kong and, each speaker was asked “If you have one thing to do in tobacco control, what would that be?” and every single one said “tax”. This is because higher prices make cigarettes unaffordable to young people.

Taxation is the most effective approach to controlling the spread of tobacco. Creating smoke-free areas is the second measure, followed by things like advertising bans and smoking cessation.

Some people say health education in schools is crucial. Certainly, everybody likes health education, but it has not been proven effective in bringing down the prevalence of youth smoking.

And you can tell it is not effective because the tobacco industry does not oppose it. They oppose tax increases, plain packaging and smoke-free areas. And because the tobacco industry fights them, we know these are the measures that work.

Q: What needs to be done to improve our health education programmes at schools?

A: School health promotion programmes do not work because traditionally they say that if you smoke, you will get cancer when you are 60 years or heart attack when you are 70 years. If you are only a 11-year-old child, it is totally meaningless.

We need to do much more to revitalise and revamp health promotion and health education. Smoking and non-smoking youth have, in fact, the same level of health knowledge about the harms of smoking. The difference between the two groups is whether they think smoking is cool or a dirty expensive habit.

We have got to make it attractive to be a non-smoker in the teenage years.

Q: The Control of Tobacco and Smoking Bill currently being drafted would see the minimum age for buying cigarettes raised to 21 years old, ban on displaying tobacco products and making it illegal to smoke in vehicles with children inside, among others. How effective would this be in tackling smoking prevalence?

A: (People aged) 8 to 23 years is a vulnerable period. If you can stop children from smoking at this age, they are less likely to smoke. Whereas before that, they do not have the kind of mature judgment to analyse what it will mean to actually smoke.

The tobacco industry is very interested in youth and young adults because one has to only smoke 100 cigarettes and he or she will become lifelong smokers. It is so addictive.

Q: Besides health effects, what are the other impacts of cigarette smoking to the country and its people?

A: Two out of every three smokers die from cigarette smoking, so, you are losing skilled workers. One in every three fires in the world is caused by careless smoking.

There is also loss of productivity. Smokers go out for seven minutes to smoke. So, that’s seven minutes every time they smoke. Smokers are sicker and die on average a decade before non-smokers, so families lose their bread-winner.

There are medical and health costs. There is smoke damage to buildings and fabric.

And then there is a massive cost of cleaning up all the litter, billions of cigarette ends, packets, matches and lighters that are discarded every day in the world.

The tobacco industry claims that tobacco control would harm workers and farmers. This is not true. We have got so many projects now, including right in the heart of tobacco-growing in China showing that if farmers grow alternative crops they actually earn more.

The second fallacy is that if restaurants go smoke-free, they would lose revenue. Nowhere in the world has that happened. The revenue, including in Hong Kong and California, where they have introduced smoke-free policies, has gone up and not down.

Another fallacy is the government would lose money if it puts up the tax.

This does not happen. Some smokers will still pay more for cigarettes, so the revenue goes up. The number of smokers will come down particularly among the young and the poor.

There are so many economic fallacies that some non-governmental organisations propagate. Sometimes, governments almost innocently believe these economic arguments.

Q: If the situation is so dire, why can’t countries impose a blanket ban on cigarettes?

A: No country has put a blanket ban on cigarettes. Authorities have learnt from the prohibition of alcohol in the United States (1920-1933), for example, that it leads to much bigger implications particularly with crime and corruption cases.

So, the idea is to slowly push tobacco use back, so that the reduction is genuine and it is done throughout the community. This is what every government is really trying to do rather than actually ban it.

Q: Malaysia aims to be smoke-free (the End Game of Tobacco) by 2045. Are we moving in the right direction?

A: I strongly commend Malaysia for the foresight in establishing the 2045 goal and targets; few countries have yet to do this.

Recently the prevalence of male smokers has begun to decrease.

It is going to require a major commitment by the government and a huge effort by academia as well as non-governmental organisations in achieving this goal.

The Health Ministry has worked out a year-by-year plan of reducing prevalence up to 2045. It has developed a roadmap and has filled in what needs to be done each year to achieve the goal.

But it is not a quick process: if a country reduces its prevalence by one per cent a year, it is doing quite well.

So, it’s possible for Malaysia, but it will be challenging.

Study: China Struggles to Kick World-Leading Cigarette Habit

Most smokers in China, the world’s largest tobacco consumer, have no intention of kicking the habit and remain unaware of some of its most damaging health effects, Chinese health officials and outside researchers said Wednesday.

http://www.voanews.com/a/china-smoking/3879050.html

An estimated 316 million people smoke in China, almost a quarter of the population, and concerns are growing about the long-term effects on public health and the economy.

The vast majority of smokers are men, of whom 59 percent told surveyors that they have no plans to quit, according to a decade-long study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Canadian researchers with the International Tobacco Control project.

Such numbers have prompted efforts to restrict the formerly ubiquitous practice. Major cities including Beijing and Shanghai having recently moved to ban public smoking, with Shanghai’s prohibition going into effect in March. In 2015, the central government approved a modest nationwide cigarette tax increase.

But Chinese and international health officials argue that more is needed, including a nationwide public smoking ban, higher cigarette taxes and more aggressive health warnings. Such actions are “critically important,” Yuan Jiang, director of tobacco control for the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said in a statement released with Wednesday’s study.

A public smoking ban appeared imminent last year. The government health ministry said in December that it would happen by the end of 2016, but that has yet to materialize.

“They have to figure out what’s important as a health policy,” said Geoffrey Fong of Canada’s University of Waterloo, one of the authors of Wednesday’s study. “Every third man that you pass on the street in China will die of cigarettes. …When you have cheap cigarettes, people will smoke them.”

In line with global trends, smoking rates among Chinese have fallen slowly over the past 25 years, by about 1 percent annually among men and 2.6 percent among women, according to a separate study published in April in the medical journal The Lancet.

Yet because of China’s population growth — 1.37 billion people at last count — the actual number of smokers has continued to increase. Rising prosperity means cigarettes have become more affordable, while low taxes keep the cost of some brands at less than $1 a pack.

Sixty percent of Chinese smokers were unaware that cigarettes can lead to strokes and almost 40 percent weren’t aware that smoking causes heart disease, according to the study, which was released on World No Tobacco Day, when the World Health Organization and others highlight health risks associated with tobacco use.

Judith Mackay, an anti-tobacco advocate based in Hong Kong, said China has made strides with the public smoking bans in some cities and a similar ban covering schools and universities, but that’s not enough.

“This is the first time there has been a report looking at the overall picture of where China stands,” said Mackay, senior adviser at Vital Strategies, a global health organization. “The reality is, it’s falling behind.”

Mackay blamed behind the scenes lobbying by China’s state-owned tobacco monopoly for impeding efforts to toughen tobacco policies. The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Government agencies and research institutes in China, Canada and the United States funded the study.

Who Still Smokes? Designing the Tobacco Endgame

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Addressing the tobacco industry vector

The tobacco industry’s escalating attacks on public health are replicated across the world, as is the harm caused by its products.

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Addressing-the-tobacco-industry-vector-482330

‘THE TOBACCO industry attempts to impede tobacco regulation have changed over the years, but have not abated – they have instead mutated, and on a global scale.’

I was privileged recently to deliver the keynote address to the annual meeting of the Israel Society for Smoking Cessation and Prevention. The title was “Advocacy efforts in countering tobacco industry tactics.”

In the address I quoted Dr. Margaret Chan, director- general of the World Health Organization, who in 2008 said, “I want to remind governments in every country of the range and force of counter-tactics used by the tobacco industry – an industry that has much money and no qualms about using it in the most devious ways imaginable.”

Just as the primary vector for malaria is the mosquito, the primary vector for the tobacco epidemic is the tobacco industry. The industry attempts to impede tobacco regulation have changed over the years, but have not abated – they have instead mutated, and on a global scale.

When the WHO’s first and only internationally binding treaty – the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) – entered into force (Israel became a signatory in 2005), there was a dramatic increase in the number of countries implementing tobacco control policies. The industry determined to adapt to the new situation.

According to WHO, the tobacco industry has continued to use advertising, promotion and sponsorship to undermine tobacco control efforts. In addition, it has sought to interfere with tobacco control on a global scale using a variety of tactics. For example, it lobbies and funds politicians and political parties to hijack the political and legislative process. It exaggerates the economic importance of the industry, while remaining silent on the massive health and economic costs of tobacco use. It manipulates public opinion to gain the appearance of respectability, often under the guise of corporate social responsibility, while irresponsibly playing down or denying the real harms its products.

It fabricates support by developing and resourcing front groups who advocate on the industry’s behalf. It continues to attempt to discredit proven scientific and economic evidence – often erroneously claiming that evidence from one country isn’t applicable in another.

And, increasingly, it intimidates governments with litigation or the threat of litigation, or trade threats.

Tobacco companies have recently launched a spate of international legal challenges to oppose the implementation of legitimate and robust tobacco control measures. Bilateral investment treaties have been used as the premise for international commercial arbitration challenges against Uruguay and Australia. This typifies the tobacco industry’s response to countries exercising their regulatory autonomy in the tobacco space: one of untenable intimidation.

This intimidation of governments is important because only governments can ratify and implement UN treaties, such as the WHO FCTC, mandate public health legislation and implement taxation policies that increase the price and reduce the affordability of tobacco products – the single most effective way of reducing tobacco use.

Legal and trade challenges typically have a delaying effect upon the country concerned – the implementation of tobacco control measures is paused until the case is resolved, they are expensive for governments (typically costing millions of US dollars) and have a regulatory chill effect on other countries that might be contemplating similar measures. However, these challenges have been repeatedly dismissed by high courts, constitutional courts and courts of justice in jurisdictions including Australia, the UK, Kenya, France, the European Union, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.

In addition, more and more countries are dismissing tobacco industry opposition, and introducing plain packaging. Responding to the industry’s increased use of trade law, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Gates Foundation announced an $ 4 million fund to support countries against such threats – but we need to adopt other strategies too.

For example, research is often directed toward establishing the rates of smoking prevalence, health and mortality, and the economic impact of tobacco. This research is invaluable, but more effort also should be directed at tracking tobacco industry behavior so we can more efficiently monitor and resist the tobacco industry vector. Many advocates do not even know whether the tobacco industry donates to front groups or politicians in their country; whether the International Tax and Investment Center (funded by the tobacco industry) has visited their Finance Ministry with the mantra of not raising tobacco taxes; or whether the industry has met with government (and under WHO FCTC Article 5.3, the tobacco industry should have no part in formulating tobacco control policy).

This is perhaps why recent allegations regarding tobacco industry bribes to the Israeli government came as such a shock.

The tobacco industry’s escalating attacks on public health are replicated across the world, as is the harm caused by its products. The global tobacco epidemic, which will kill six million people this year, cannot be addressed unless we are equipped to counter all the industry’s tactics and all governments – including Israel’s – stand firm in stopping the tobacco industry from influencing health policy development and implementation.

The current prevalence of smoking in Israel is about 20%. Israel’s next step could be, as many countries have already done, to announce a target of 5% prevalence rate by 2028, and work annually to achieve this target. This is an ambitious target, but challenging rather than impossible.

Designing the Tobacco End Game

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Hong Kong Department of Health Tobacco Control Zero Efforts

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COSH urges the Government to take full account of public opinions Enact Enlargement of Pictorial Health Warnings Promptly

http://smokefree.hk/en/content/web.do?page=news20170116

Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (“COSH”) urges the Government and Legislative Council to enact the enlargement of pictorial health warnings promptly in order to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco, motivate more smokers to quit and deter youth from trying the first cigarette. Mr Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman remarked, “Results from survey conducted by COSH and two rounds of public consultations organized by the Legislative Council showed that majority of citizens and organizations supported the enlargement of pictorial health warnings to 85%. The Government and Legislative Council should take full account of public opinions and enact the proposed tobacco control measure as soon as possible.”

The Government briefed the legislative proposals to strengthen tobacco control on 18 May 2015, including enlarging the size of pictorial health warnings to at least 85% of the two largest surfaces of the packet, increasing the number of forms of health warning from six to twelve and adding the quitline 1833 183. The date of enactment is yet to be scheduled after more than one and a half years.

The Legislative Council collected views of the public and held special meetings on the enlargement of pictorial health warnings twice. Among the hundred submissions received in July 2015 regarding the increase in the size of pictorial health warnings, more than 80% supported. Besides, over 100 submissions were received for the special meeting of Legislative Council Panel on Health Services to be held tomorrow (17 January 2017), in which around 70% agreed the proposed measure.

The School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong was commissioned by COSH to carry out the Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey 2016. It was found that public support on enhancing the pictorial health warnings was overwhelming, 79.5% of all respondents agreed to display more threatening messages about the health risks of smoking. About 72.5% of all respondents supported to increase the coverage of the health warnings to 85% while about half of the current smokers also supported. Majority of respondents opted for plain packaging* of cigarettes as well. In addition, COSH has collected over 26,500 signatures from citizens and organizations through street counters and online platform supporting the enlargement of pictorial health warnings since May 2015.

In recent years, many countries have successfully introduced more stringent measures to regulate tobacco packaging. Prof Judith MACKAY, Director of Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control and Senior Policy Advisor of World Health Organization claimed, “Hong Kong ranked the 72nd in the world regarding the implementation of pictorial health warning and behind many developing countries like Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Hong Kong should enlarge and strengthen the pictorial warnings promptly in order to reduce the use of tobacco.” World Health Organization called for more countries to enlarge pictorial warnings covering more than 85% and implement plain packaging. “Get ready for plain packaging” was designated as the theme of World No Tobacco Day 2016.

Recently, some organizations opposed the proposed enlargement of warnings in the pretext that it would lead to a surge in cigarette smuggling activities. A recent study also claimed that illicit cigarettes composed for around 30% of cigarette consumption in Hong Kong. Prof LAM Tai-hing, Chair Professor of Community Medicine cum Sir Robert Kotewall Professor in Public Health, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong said, “the public should express reservation on the results of this tobacco industry-funded study. The data collection methods and calculations of the study were unclear using dubious methods.” The tobacco industry and its allies always express strong opposition against tobacco control measures proposed by the Government under the pretext that it will lead to a surge in cigarette smuggling activities. As recommended by the World Health Organization, the most effective measure against smuggling is tight control and aggressive enforcement.

With the Government’s multi-pronged tobacco control policies over the years, the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong has gradually reduced from 23% in early 80s to 10.5% in 2015. In view of the tobacco epidemic in Hong Kong and the international tobacco control trend, we urge the Government and Legislative Councilors to take account of public opinions and implement the enlargement of pictorial health warnings as soon as possible to safeguard public health. The Government should also actively consider adopting plain packaging within 2 to 3 years and develop long-term and comprehensive tobacco control policies including regulating the emerging tobacco products and e-cigarettes, raising tobacco tax substantially, expanding no-smoking areas, increasing resources on education, publicity, smoking cessation services and enforcement to further reduce the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong and protect people from the harms of smoking and secondhand smoke.

*Remarks: Plain packaging standardizes and simplifies the packaging of tobacco products. The pictorial health warnings on the main sides of cigarette pack are expanded. All forms of tobacco branding should be labeled according to the government prescriptions and with simple and plain format. This means that trademarks, graphics and logos are not allowed on cigarette packs, except for the brand name that is displayed in a standard font size, colour and location on the package. The packaging should not contain other colours and should include only the content and consumer information, such as toxic constituents and health warnings required by law. The quitline number should also be displayed at a prominent position. Australia was the first country to introduce plain packaging in 2012. The measure was also implemented in the United Kingdom, France and Hungary in 2016 and will be implemented in Ireland in 2017.

Bigger graphic health warnings on Hong Kong cigarette packs needed, anti-smoking group says

Survey finds most in favour of move, which advocates say can protect public health and encourage more to quit habit

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2062577/more-graphic-health-warnings-hong-kong-cigarette

An anti-smoking body has pressed the government to speed up legislation on cigarette pack health warnings after a survey revealed almost 80 per cent of people desired sterner messages on smoking risks.

The Council on Smoking and Health made the call ahead of another public hearing held on Tuesday in the Legislative Council to collect views on whether to implement the law.

The legislation will expand the size of health warnings on cigarette packs from the current 50 per cent to 85 per cent of the packaging surface.

The proposal was first submitted by the government in May 2015, and the first hearing was held in July in the same year.

According to a survey commissioned by the council and done between February and September last year, 79.5 per cent of 2,058 respondents – comprising smokers, non-smokers and ex-smokers – want cigarette packs to show clearer and more graphic warnings.

Another 72.5 per cent of them also want to see the graphic warnings enlarged to cover 85 per cent of the packaging surface, a move also supported by almost half of the smokers in the survey.

“The implementation work has dragged on for one and a half years. This measure can protect public health and help more people quit smoking.

“We hope that Legco will not procrastinate on the legislation any further,” council chairman Antonio Kwong Cho-shing said.

He said that Australia recorded a drop of 2.2 percentage points in average smoking rate after introducing plain cigarette packaging in 2012.

Of this amount, 0.55 percentage points, or 108,000 fewer smokers, were due directly to the new measure which only allowed brand names to be displayed in a standard font size, colour and position on the packaging, thereby making them less conspicuous and seemingly less desirable.

Professor Judith Mackay, a veteran tobacco control advocate and senior policy advisor for the World Health Organisation, said a larger graphic warning would have an even bigger visual impact and induce more smokers to quit.

According to a Canadian Cancer Society survey which studied the effectiveness of health warnings on cigarette packs worldwide, Hong Kong ranked 72nd out of 205 places.

“We used to be among the top 12 jurisdictions [in cigarette pack warnings] … now we are lagging very far behind from the international experience,” Mackay said. She has been working on tobacco control advocacy in the city for more than 30 years.

The survey done by the Canadian group looked at various factors, including whether graphic warnings existed on the packaging design, the sizes of the images and when the warnings were introduced.

Mackay attributed the city’s poor ranking partly to outdated warnings, which were first introduced in 2007, and the lack of information on helpline numbers for those seeking to quit the habit.

She said in the long run the government should also further increase tobacco tax to make cigarettes less affordable.

Kwong from the Council on Smoking and Health said it submitted a letter to the financial secretary late last year to suggest increasing tobacco tax to 100 per cent.

Graphic Pack Warnings in Hong Kong

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Next chief executive should back annual tobacco tax hike in Hong Kong

Your editorial (“Preventive health care is an investment, not a burden [1]”, January 1) has hit the nail on the head regarding the importance of, and investment in, prevention versus cure in Hong Kong.

We all need the “ambulance and curative services” to rescue us when we are taken ill, but unless the whole of government – particularly the finance, trade and economic branches, as well as the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Ombudsman – grasps the political nettle of issues such as tobacco control, health will never improve, nor will the many thousands of annual deaths from tobacco be reduced.

Indeed, the entire Hong Kong government is under an international obligation to do so, being a party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

One of the most important platforms of any incoming chief executive is their future preventive health plan for Hong Kong citizens.

Let us call upon each of the potential chief executive candidates to outline their health platforms. We should discard all those who see these platforms in terms of more hospital beds, which will never solve the problem of improving Hong Kong’s health. And the current health paradigm is such that improvements will only come about by addressing the vested interests of big business – the tobacco, alcohol, food, and even salt industry –including their often unrecognised front groups.

With tobacco control, we have known for decades what works, and how very cost-effective these measures are. Yet governments around the world hesitate to act.

Increasing tobacco tax heads the list of the best single measure to reduce smoking. It may be surprising to many that a fiscal measure is more important than health education in schools or banning sales to youth, for example, but it is the single best action governments can take to reduce consumption among the young.

Why can Hong Kong not follow Australia and New Zealand and commit to an annual tobacco tax increase of, say, 10 per cent per annum to the year 2025?

Any chief executive candidate who would endorse this would get my (hypothetical) vote.

It would give us an orderly and planned route to follow, and avoid the incredible waste of time and energy lobbying annually for tobacco tax increases. And it would have a massive effect in saving young and middle-aged lives, and in what is termed “frailty avoidance” in the elderly.

Dr Judith Mackay, Clear Water Bay