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March 5th, 2009:

Levy Increase Not The Answer

Updated on Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

The desire to curb teenage smoking seems to dominate government officials to such an extent that they overlooked that the taxes on tobacco amount to regressive tax.

Smokers, many of whom are lower on the financial totem pole, are already reeling in this economic crisis and will bear the brunt of yet another ill-conceived tax policy. When prices of cigarettes are much higher than on the mainland illegal smuggling ensues and there have already been press reports that this is happening.

Past cigarette tax rises have not arrested the increase of smokers in Hong Kong. Reckoning with the futility of the policy has been deferred by a government influenced by lobby groups.

As many smokers will tell you giving up smoking and replacing it with a salubrious habit takes tremendous determination.

We should be lending sympathy to them and not harbouring scorn bordering on retribution.

The government and the lobby groups in this economic crisis should be managing the welfare of all Hong Kong citizens. People on low incomes should be receiving aid and not be paradoxically subjected to a levy.

Raising the cigarette tax to curb teenage smoking is a handier excuse for evading a less appealing remedy to an intractable problem.

Similar to preventing high school pregnancies curbing teenage smoking is the responsibility of schools and parents that entails effort and time.

To think that raising the cigarette tax will magically lower teenage smoking is akin to the admission that manipulating the price of condoms will have an effect on teenage sex.

Jack Teh, Clear Water Bay

Electronic Cigarettes Are Ruled Illegal

Two arrested at Sham Shui Po shop for selling unregistered ‘quit-smoking’ products

Amy Nip and Agnes Lam – Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

Electronic Cigars

Electronic cigarettes are an unregistered pharmaceutical product and it is illegal for the public to possess them, the Health Department warns.

Two people were arrested for selling electronic cigarettes, Health Department director Lam Ping-yan said at a press conference yesterday.

The items in question are cigarette-shaped electronic devices that atomise nicotine into an aerosol. No burning is involved in the process.

The Health Department and police raided an appliance shop yesterday in Apliu Street, Sham Shui Po, arrested two people and seized nine types of products. They included atomisers and “smoke cartridges”, which are refill products.

The two people arrested were a manager and a store employee.

Under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance, electronic cigarettes containing nicotine and marketed as products to help people quit smoking are pharmaceutical items that require registration with the Health Department.

None of the electronic cigarettes sold in the city are registered and it is illegal to sell or possess the product. Anyone who sells or possesses the products is liable to a HK$100,000 fine and two years in prison.

“Keeping such products at home is not allowed,” Dr Lam said. “Anybody who has them should dump them quickly. If they don’t know how to deal with them, they can hand them to the Health Department. Department staff will dispose them.”

Using the unregistered product was dangerous, he warned.

“It is hard to predict how asthma patients or people with respiratory illnesses would react” to using them, Dr Lam said. “We found a high level of nicotine in the electronic cigarettes. There is 36 milligrams of nicotine in one smoke cartridge, higher than in one pack of cigarettes.”

A pack of cigarettes had an average 14 to 15 milligrams of nicotine.

It was difficult to ban Net ads for electronic cigarettes, Dr Lam said. They cost about 200 yuan (HK$230) on one mainland website.

Mr Chiu, whose shop was raided two days ago, said the Health Department had seized his stock of electronic cigarettes.

“The electronic cigarettes have been quite popular recently,” he said. “Health Department officers came to my shop and seized all my stocks after I was interviewed by reporters.

“The officers said all electronic cigarettes had to undergo examination. I don’t understand why. These products are helping smokers. I want to help smokers.”

He said most electronic cigarettes were made on the mainland and the products were very popular in Europe. “I don’t see why the government has to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes. How can these products be bad for people when they help people quit smoking?”

The Electronic Cigarette

‘As a smoker, there was no heft to the experience’

Dan Kadison and Agnes Lam – Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

The electronic cigarette is strange and fun, mystifying and intriguing – but when push comes to smoke, the gadget is a novelty act, a pet rock, a gimmick to move with the times.

A Post reporter, who alternates his days between quitting heroically and smoking relentlessly, was asked to test the banned doodad.

The battery-operated device is a bit heavier than a coffin nail, but it is not bothersome. It delivered pleasing draws of nicotine relief that tasted like burnt chocolate. And a smoky mystery mist appeared with each exhale. Another plus is that the gizmo’s tip glowed orange with each draw.

Other benefits? The manufacturer claims there’s no second-hand smoke, no carcinogen worry, no falling asleep and burning down the house.

Still, with all the perks, the reporter can’t back the stick. As a smoker, there was no heft to the experience. As a non-smoker, there was no healthy sacrifice.

Electronic cigarettes were still available for sale yesterday at a wine store, Cheers at Olympian City, after the Department of Health called on smokers not to use the devices until their safety, efficacy and quality was established.

The product, which is sold at HK$580 with a coupon, originally cost HK$1,880.

“The product is made in China and then shipped back to Europe and then exported to other places. It contains no nicotine and it is legal for you to buy it and possess it,” a shopkeeper told a reporter posing as a customer. The shop assistant also told the reporter that the product was exempted from Hong Kong laws, claiming it was nicotine-free.

“Quite a lot of customers have brought this electronic cigarette and some elderly smokers told me that it can really help them quit smoking,” the shopkeeper said.

Electronic cigarettes were also available at another outlet of Cheers at Hollywood Plaza in Diamond Hill.

Too Pricey For Young Smokers

Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

I agree with the 50 per cent increase in tobacco duty announced in the budget. The government has worked hard at promoting its anti-smoking campaign. This tax rise will make cigarettes unaffordable for teenagers and people on low incomes.

I think it will definitely prevent more young people from taking up smoking.

Michelle Young, Tin Shui Wai

We Need An Even Higher Tobacco Tax Hike

Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

I refer to the letter by Chris Robinson (“Punitive tactics just put smokers on the defensive”, March 2). As he was a market sales consultant to tobacco companies, I can understand his irritation.

In contrast to Mr Robinson’s assessment of tobacco control in Hong Kong, there are still large gaps in essential public health measures, as prescribed by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which allows the tobacco industry to maintain brand value in the eyes of young people, its principal target.

While I agree with Sally Lo, of Hong Kong Cancer Fund (“Tobacco tax rise applauded”, February Post 27) and Sian Griffiths, of Chinese University’s school of public health (“A victory for public health”, March 2) that the increase in duty will lead to health gains, it will not compensate for the damage done during the eight years that this measure was stalled.

The present tax rise is necessary but not sufficient. Tobacco is still far too cheap and we will need further tax rises to ensure our tax is in the band recommended by the World Bank and the WHO.

We should be told why the advice of the government’s public health authorities, rather than the tobacco industry, was ignored for so long and need a much more consistent approach to public health policy if we are to benefit in the long term from a reduction in the tobacco epidemic and reallocation of resources from increased tax revenue to health care including smoking cessation.

I remain pessimistic about the prospect of a sustained programme of fiscal measures to support public health. On RTHK’s Backchat on February 27, when it was pointed out he would have more funds to strengthen disciplined services to combat smuggling, the financial secretary said: “I hope not to have increased revenue.”

While we may eventually reach a point where tax rises are revenue neutral, at present there is enormous scope and need to ensure we generate higher revenue through tax to fully exploit the effect of price on protection of youth and compensate public sector health services for the continuing costs of tobacco-induced disease. That would be an evidence-based approach rather than the measures advocated by tobacco industry lobbyists which are designed to support shareholder’s dividends but fail public health.

Anthony J. Hedley, school of public health, University of Hong Kong