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July 19th, 2011:

Letters to Editor HK Standard newspaper

Johnny Phang  (July 19) ‘Ban smoking completely –  someone to show me how much taxes governments all over the world collect on tobacco and related products’  advocates banning smoking and asks how much tax is collected.. Bhutan has banned smoking and New Zealand intends to do so by 2025; Iceland is debating making tobacco available only by medical prescription. The HK Government has many available tools in its armoury if it has the political will to use them.  The first tool was to increase tobacco tax belatedly but without an included amount for inflation in the last Budget, thereby  making cigarettes less affordable to  replacement smokers (youth). The tax increase whilst welcome does not go  far enough given Hong Kong’s standard of living and retail elasticity /affordability.  Using one control pack of 20 cigarettes  the HK$ international retail prices inclusive of taxes  are : New York 113, Singapore 72, New Zealand 90 (with another i10% increase scheduled Jan 01 2012) , Ireland 90, UK 80 , Hong Kong  50. In Australia  the Government will introduce into Law plain packaging of cigarettes this month. New Zealand intends to follow their lead; this removes the packaging attractiveness  (known as the Silent Salesman) which appeals to youth and the  pink colour that appeals to girls. Big Tobacco is screaming breach of trade agreements and loss of trademarks since it realizes the move will domino. They do not have a cancerous leg legally to stand on and think huff and puff will work instead but the admirable Governments will not back down. In Hong Kong’s Budget  in 2010 we did not have an excise increase ; in the four months thereafter 661,559 million excise paid sticks were sold reaping excise HK$ 797.83 million whereas after the excise tax increase in the 2011 Budget in the same 4 month period thereafter the figures are 291,217 million sticks  and HK$ 496.65 million. The tax increase has reduced comparative sales by 370,34 million sticks over 2010 figures and excise revenue reduced by HK$ 301 million. In 1998 the HKU Department of Community Medicine study revealed the cost to HK society for loss of productivity and health care for treating smoking related diseases was HK$ 5.3 billion per year, if loss of life were included due to smoking related disease the figures would be HK$ 73 billion per year. It is clear the cost of treatment at 2011 prices will be far higher than the HK$ 5.3 billion in 1998 dollars and abundantly clear that the tax payer is subsidising the massive treatment costs inflicted on society by Big Tobacco . The Government has a duty of care to its citizens and , like the USA did and Canada is now doing, must sue Big Tobacco  to recover these costs – to do otherwise condones the 7,000 tobacco deaths each year here .

James Middleton


Clear the Air NGO    Tel 26930136