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March 20th, 2012:

Customs swoops on illicit cigarette smuggling syndicate in Sai Kung

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Hong Kong Customs today (March 20) swooped on an illicit cigarette smuggling syndicate in Sai Kung.On board a lorry and a van, a total of 87 boxes containing about 1.04 million sticks of duty-not-paid cigarette were found. The total value is about $2.6 million with a duty potential of about $1.7 million. In the operation, three men (aged from 21 to 34) were arrested, a lorry and a van were seized.

At about 1.30pm, while conducting an anti-illicit cigarette operation in Sai Kung area, Customs officers of Anti-illicit-cigarette Investigation Division spotted a suspicious lorry inside Tseng Tau Tsuen. Three men were seen off-loading some carton boxes from the lorry to a van. Customs officers then took action and found 87 boxes of illicit cigarette. Three men were arrested immediately.

Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, anyone involved in dealing with, possession, selling and buying illicit cigarettes commits an offence. The maximum penalty on conviction is imprisonment for two years and a fine of $1 million.

Customs will continue to take stringent enforcement against cigarette smuggling activities to protect government revenue.

Members of the public are urged to report any suspected illicit cigarette activities to the Customs’ 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.

Source: HKSAR Government

UK diplomat accused of tobacco lobbying –

March 15, 2012 8:13 pm

UK diplomat accused of tobacco lobbying

By Kiran Stacey and Rose Jacobs

A senior British diplomat has been accused of breaking UK and
international health guidelines by lobbying his host government on behalf
of a tobacco company, in a sign of the ethical dilemmas thrown up by the
foreign office drive to promote British industry abroad.

The Financial Times has obtained a letter written by Michael John
Holloway, UK ambassador to Panama, in which he raises concern over the
“alarming growth” of contraband cigarettes and the “critical situation”
this has caused for British American Tobacco, which he describes as “one
of the most important British companies”.

Although UK diplomats have been encouraged to put trade at the heart of
their relations with foreign governments, they are forbidden to lobby on
behalf of the tobacco industry.

Guidelines produced in 1999 under a Labour government said diplomats
“should not support activities designed specifically to encourage
smoking” and Britain is signed up to a World Health Organisation
convention which commits governments to putting public health concerns
ahead of “commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.

In a letter to Ricardo Quijano, the Panamanian trade minister, last
month, Mr Holloway complained that BAT was being harmed by tax increases
on tobacco in the central American nation.

He wrote: “The objective of this letter is to pass on my concerns as
British ambassador to the Republic of Panama for the alarming growth of
the contraband of cigarettes into the country and the critical situation
this has caused on the legal industry, specifically to one of the most
important British companies, British American Tobacco.”

Anti-smoking campaigners have written to William Hague, foreign
secretary, demanding he investigate how widely tobacco interests are
being promoted by UK diplomats around the world.

Tobacco bans

British diplomats have faced restrictions on promoting tobacco interests
abroad since 1999, when the Labour government introduced guidelines
saying officials should avoid activities “designed specifically to
encourage smoking”. In 2005, the UK went further by signing up to a World
Health Organisation convention which said: “In setting and implementing
their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, [countries]
shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested
interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” David
Cameron’s coalition gave its approval to the WHO guidelines last year
when it produced its own tobacco control plan.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group Ash, said: “The
British ambassador was clearly lobbying the Panamanian government on
behalf of BAT and he should be forced to apologise.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office denied the letter sought to promote
tobacco use, insisting it was aimed at curbing illegal trade in

“Our ambassador was in no way seeking to promote tobacco use, is well
aware of our obligations as a party to the [WHO] Framework Convention on
Tobacco Control, and will continue to ensure that public health policies
in Panama are not in any way put at risk,” the FCO said.

In his letter, Mr Holloway wrote: “We consider that the disproportionate
increase of taxes to the consumption of tobacco products in the last few
years has only benefited illegal trade since the consumption of this
product has not reduced and the number of smokers remains almost the

The incident highlights potential problems arising from the government’s
emphasis on promoting trade as a guiding principle of its foreign policy.
David Cameron, prime minister, came under fire last year when he visited
Egypt to promote Arab democracy, but took several large arms companies
with him, including BAE Systems, Qinetiq and Thales.

Panama is particularly important for British trade. As well as being the
fastest growing economy in the Americas, it is the only one for whom the
British are the biggest foreign investors, having committed £8bn so far.
Latin America is also a big market for BAT.

Tobacco industry a devious enemy: WHO chief

Tobacco industry a devious enemy: WHO chief

Agence France-Presse

Posted at 03/20/2012 6:53 PM | Updated as of 03/20/2012 6:53 PM

Singapore – World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Margaret Chan Tuesday branded the tobacco industry a “ruthless and devious enemy” and called on governments and civil society groups to unite against cigarette firms.

Speaking at a conference on tobacco and health in Singapore, the WHO director-general slammed cigarette companies for undermining a UN-backed campaign against tobacco use and its associated health risks.

“We have an enemy, a ruthless and devious enemy, to unite us and ignite a passionate commitment to prevail,” she told the delegates.

“The enemy, the tobacco industry, has changed its face and its tactics. The wolf is no longer in sheep’s clothing, and its teeth are bared.”

Chan said moves by cigarette firms to challenge the legality of government measures to protect public health amounted to interference in countries’ domestic affairs.

“Paying people to use a country’s judicial system to challenge the legality of measures that protect the public is a flagrant abuse of the judicial system and a flagrant affront to national sovereignty,” she said.

“This is direct interference with a country’s internal affairs. We will not let them do these kinds of tactics.”

Chan, a former Hong Kong health chief who was elected to the WHO’s top post in November 2006, said legal actions filed by tobacco companies against the authorities in Uruguay, Norway, Australia and Turkey were designed to weaken their resolve to control tobacco use.

“What the industry wants to see is a domino effect,” she said.

“When one country’s resolve falters under the pressure of costly, drawn-out litigation and threats of billion-dollar settlements, others with similar intentions are likely to topple as well.”

Chan urged civil society groups to take up the slack when government efforts are weakened due to the tobacco industry’s challenge.

“We need this kind of outcry, this kind of rage,” she said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco use kills nearly six million people each year, including more than 600,000 who are non-smokers but exposed to second-hand smoke.

The UN health watchdog said on its website that unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030.

WHO urges China to bolster tobacco controls

SINGAPORE—The head of the World Health Organization urged China on Tuesday to bolster controls on tobacco in a country where half of adult males smoke.

China and other Asian countries should raise taxes on cigarette sales and ban tobacco advertising and sponsorships, WHO Director General Margaret Chan said.

The Chinese government banned smoking at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, but Chan said China more must do more to discourage the habit.

“They still have a long way to go, but they are making good headway,” Chan told reporters at a global tobacco control conference in Singapore. “A lot of work needs to be done in China.”

“Having said that, I have to say that the leadership in China understands that they need to take action, and they have over the years geared up on tobacco control measures,” Chan said.

China’s 350 million smokers account for about 35 percent of the 1 billion global smokers, and more people die worldwide from smoking every year than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, Chan said.

According to the World Lung Foundation, Chinese smokers consume about 2.3 trillion cigarettes a year. Russians are the next-biggest population of smokers with 390 billion cigarettes consumed a year, while the U.S. smokes 315 billion cigarettes. Asia accounts for about 58 percent of global cigarette consumption.

Chan said Asian countries should follow the lead of Australia, which is seeking to allow only plain packaging on cigarette boxes. Tobacco companies are fighting the measure in court.

Chan also praised Singapore, which has some of the strictest anti-smoking laws in the world. Earlier this month, the Singapore government said it planned to extend a ban on smoking to include all corridors and staircases in residential buildings, sheltered walkways and bridges and a five-meter (16.4 feet) radius around bus stops.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Grace Fu told Parliament that Singapore’s long-term goal is to prohibit smoking in all public places, except designated smoking areas.

“Our aim is to work toward a future where Singaporeans consider smoking not only detrimental to health, but also socially unacceptable,” Fu said.

Even with the restrictions and taxes that push the cost of a pack of 20 Marlboro cigarettes to 12.40 Singapore dollars ($9.85), about a third of Singaporean adult males smoke.

“I’m not going to stop smoking just because the government wants me to,” said Sahrul Hamid, a 36-year-old investment banker as he huddled with about 10 other smokers outside a Singapore office building. “It’s just a hassle because the building where I work doesn’t have a smoking area. So I waste time having to walk over here.”

In other Asian countries, the habit is even more deeply rooted. About 47 percent of adult males in the Philippines smoke regularly, 49 percent in South Korea and 57 percent in Indonesia, according to the World Lung Foundation.

About 22 percent of males smoke in the U.S., down from 52 percent in 1960.


Associated Press writer Sharon Chen in Singapore contributed to this story