Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

Hong Kong

Anti-smoking fight heats up

Bringing Hong Kong’s smoking rate down to single digits from one of the world’s lowest will be a slow and difficult drive, with the government considering a two-pronged strategy.

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news.php?id=181900

Undersecretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said this in an interview with The Standard, as the government is set to gazette an amended law enlarging the size of scare-tactics health warnings to at least 85 percent of the cigarette packets before the current term ends on June 30.

Chan said the government will study new strategies to encourage about 600,000 hard-core smokers to quit and prevent young people from taking up the habit.

Hong Kong’s smoking rate is 10.5 percent – down from 28 percent in the 1980s – but Chan said the long-term goal is to bring down the prevalence rate to single digits, although no deadline has been set for achieving that for several reasons.

“We know that as smoking prevalence decreases to such a low extent – 10.5 is actually one of the lowest rates in the world – the rate of further lowering would be slower than before because many people who are motivated or are prepared to quit have probably already quit,” she said.

But it would be very difficult to get the hardcore smokers to quit.

“But it doesn’t mean we are not doing anything. We just need a different strategy to deal with this group of more hard-core people,” said Chan.

“We need to study the remaining population of smokers more carefully to ascertain how hardcore they are and what strategy we need to deal with the different stages of readiness to quit.”

Chan also said it was very important to prevent young people from picking up the habit.

“That’s why it is also important for us to regulate for example, e-cigarettes which are like a gateway to smoking.”

The Food and Health Bureau is studying the legislative framework to carry that out, she said, but it would not be ready anytime soon.

The Department of Health will study whether the expanded health warnings would have any effect on bringing down the smoking rate once the enhanced warnings were put in place.

“We have international evidence that it would reduce smoking prevalence,” she said.

It would be the first time for pictorial health warnings to be expanded since the warning covering 50 percent of packets was introduced in 2007.

The government will allow the tobacco industry 12 months from the enactment of the law to sell off existing stock and prepare for the expanded warnings that will also include 12 pictures, up from the current six, to be used on a rotation basis.

But she said this did not mean the government had made any concessions to the trade, saying: “Even the last time, we gave 12 months when we first introduced the pictorial warning in 2007.”

She insisted that the plan was “to gazette as soon as practicable before June 30.”

While Chan said plain packaging would not happen in Hong Kong anytime soon, she defended the government’s move to go for 85 percent instead of 100 percent health warnings.

The World Health Organization recommends 50 percent or above, she noted.

But there are legal considerations as seen in countries that have mandated plain packaging being sued by the tobacco giants.

The enhanced warnings also include the Department of Health quit line and a message from the government to quit smoking.

Calls to stub out tobacco deals

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news.php?id=180992

Several legislators yesterday called on the government not to extend further concessions to the tobacco trade that is trying to further delay implementation of bigger graphic health warnings on cigarettes to the detriment of public health.

The government proposed in May 2015 to enlarge the size of health warnings to cover at least 85 percent of the packet or retail containers of cigarettes, saying the existing six graphic health warnings which cover half of packets or containers have been in use since 2007.

The Food and Health Bureau has made four concessions to meet the industry’s concerns, including using any background color to show nicotine and tar content and for the English version of the health warning to remain at 50 percent of the surface area of the lid of a drum-shaped container.

Undersecretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee told a Legislative Council health services panel yesterday that the government will also extend the adaptation period from six months to 12 months upon gazetting of the amendment order of the smoking ordinance.

Tourism-sector lawmaker Yiu Si- wing said: “The government is conceding, giving in to the tobacco sector’s pressure.”

The Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung: “Public health should come first. Especially as I have had some personal health problems, I understand the value of health.

“I understand from the grassroots that smoking is a relief for them from stress but the government should not concede anymore. It has already conceded enough.”

Peter Shiu Ka-fai, of the wholesale and retail sector, questioned whether the government would have evidence to show that bigger warnings would mean “people will stop smoking?”

Wong Ting-kwong, of the import and export sector, said he is a smoker and that bigger warnings will still affect second- and third-hand smokers as “the smoke isn’t less.”

The panel also discussed the Hong Kong Code, a voluntary code aimed at protecting breastfeeding and to impose restrictions on formula milk marketing practices that give misconceptions about the nutritional value of products for children up to 36 months old.

Chan told the legislators: “We consulted the Department of Justice and the code is not breaching the competition law as this is voluntary.”

WHO Letter to HK Government on Tobacco Control Efforts

Download (PDF, 81KB)

CUHK MPH Student Support for Graphic Health Warnings

Download (PDF, 677KB)

HK customs seizes 900,000 suspected illicit cigarettes

HONG Kong Customs on Friday said they have seized about 900,000 suspected illicit cigarettes with an estimated market value of 2.4 million Hong Kong dollars (about US$0.3 million ) and a duty potential of about 1.7 million Hong Kong dollars.

http://www.shanghaidaily.com/nation/HK-customs-seizes-900000-suspected-illicit-cigarettes/shdaily.shtml

During an anti-illicit cigarette operation on Thursday, customs officers intercepted a truck in Kwai Chung. After inspection, customs officers found about 900,000 sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes in 108 carton boxes on board the truck. A 40-year-old man was arrested and the truck was detained. Investigation is ongoing.

Hong Kong customs said, smuggling is a serious offense. Under Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing or exporting unmanifested cargo is liable to a maximum fine of two million Hong Kong dollars and imprisonment for seven years.

They added that under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, anyone involved in dealing with, possession of, selling or buying illicit cigarettes commits an offense. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of one million Hong Kong dollars and imprisonment for two years.

Designing the Tobacco End Game

Download (PDF, 2.75MB)

Canadian Cancer Society Support on 85% HK Health Warnings

Download (PDF, 4.84MB)

Hong Kong Department of Health Tobacco Control Zero Efforts

Download (PDF, 3.39MB)

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.