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January 28th, 2013:


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Activists fume over thought of cigs tax hike

HK Standard

Hiking the tobacco tax further will only worsen cigarette smuggling.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hiking the tobacco tax further will only worsen cigarette smuggling.

That is the warning from the I Smoke Alliance, 20 of whose members visited the Central Government Offices to present a petition banner carrying the photos of over 1,000 people holding a sign that said “stop tobacco price hikes.”

The group urged the government to respect the rights of smokers and not increase tobacco taxes again in the budget to be tabled next month by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.

They also said trade in illicit cigarettes went up after the tobacco tax was raised by 50 percent in 2009 – the first of three consecutive years of hikes – widening the price gap with packs available in the mainland, for instance. A pack of 20 typically costs HK$50 here.

Convener Mer Lee Chor-kwan called the tax hikes unreasonable and slammed the government as narrow-minded.

Lee said: “The tax hike could not reduce the number of smokers, but it turns out there are now more illicit cigarettes on the market.

“Not only are these more hazardous to health, but dealing in them is illegal.”

Raymond Ho Man-kit, convener of concern group Momentum 107, said people are increasingly buying illicit cigarettes online. “Increasing tobacco tax only allows illegal groups to gain big money through selling illicit cigarettes,” Ho said, urging the government to educate the public about quitting instead.

Shirley Chan Sin-yee, a waitress and non-smoker, slammed “unreasonable” tax hikes as an incentive to quit, saying such moves ignore the problem sparked.

She said: “A tax hike will encourage more people to be involved in illicit cigarette trade, just like parallel traders.” WINNIE CHONG

Bernardi denies pro-tobacco ties breach rules

January 28, 2013

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Jessica Wright and Daniel Hurst

THE Liberal senator Cory Bernardi denies he has breached parliamentary disclosure rules by failing to declare his links to a right-wing pro-tobacco group fighting gun controls.

Senator Bernardi insisted he did not have to declare his involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council because he did not believe it posed a conflict of interest.

Labor and the Greens called for him to be stood down as chairman of the senators’ interests committee, which polices declarations.

The US-based council, which has financial ties with big tobacco companies, lobbied the Gillard government against its plain tobacco packaging laws.

ALEC is also working with the National Rifle Association to block the guns crackdown planned by the US President, Barack Obama.

An ALEC member since 2009, Senator Bernardi was dumped as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s personal parliamentary secretary in September after he made a speech to Parliament that warned against legislating for gay marriage on the grounds that it could lead to calls to legalise bestiality and polygamy.

On Sunday, Fairfax Media reported that Senator Bernardi had acted as an international delegate for ALEC and as a member of its International Relations Task Force.

But Senator Bernardi argued his pecuniary register was ”completely up to date”. He said senators were required to disclose officeholder positions, organisations to which donations of more than $300 were made or where membership could result in a conflict of interest.

”None of which applies to my status with ALEC, whose international membership supports federation, free markets and limited government,” he said on Sunday.

However, the rules say senators are required to disclose ”any other interests where a conflict of interest with a senator’s public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise”.

The Greens senator Richard Di Natale said Senator Bernardi was ”unfit to chair” the senators’ interests committee.

In a letter circulated on Sunday, Senator Bernardi claimed he was not contacted by Fairfax Media before the story was published. But Fairfax Media did contact his office and stands by its story.

Mr Abbott is yet to comment.

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