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January 12th, 2015:

Tax rise will help kick the smoking habit

A proven fact is that higher cigarette tax rates mean fewer smokers. There is no better way to force people to kick the habit, deter the young and protect against secondhand smoke. It is in the interests of public health. Finance Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s upcoming budget should feature implementation of a significant increase in the tobacco levy.

There have only been two sizeable rises in the tax since 1999, despite frequent World Health Organisation recommendations. The current rate on a pack of cigarettes is 69 per cent, one of the highest globally. Yet a recent survey by the Council on Smoking and Health and the University of Hong Kong found that the majority of people would like the levels to be even higher. On average, they believed the cost per pack should be raised from the present HK$55 to HK$106, but surprisingly, the 800 smokers questioned thought it should be even higher, at HK$171.

The council’s analysis determines that doubling the tax would cut the smoking rate over one to two years from 10.7 per cent of people above the age of 15 – about 650,000 – to between 9.5 and 9.9 per cent. Those are already outstanding figures by international standards, but the dangers of smoking mean that we should always be striving for improvement. Looking to taxes is by far the most effective strategy, especially towards young people: it makes the habit unaffordable.

Higher taxes are objected to by the tobacco industry, which claims each rise leads to greater levels of cigarette smuggling. Most black market activity involves the mainland, where a smoking culture means it has some of the world’s highest per capita rates. It is undeniable that price rises prompt some people to turn to illegal sources, but that should not be a cause to reject the idea. Better law enforcement is the solution.

Taxes alone do not deter or prevent smoking. Education also has an important role. Schools, health professionals and the anti-smoking lobby have to lift efforts. But in the short to medium term, big price hikes will have the greatest impact.

Source URL (modified on Jan 12th 2015, 10:07am):

COSH Advocates a 100% Tobacco Tax Hike to Further Lower Smoking Prevalence