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February 23rd, 2015:

Spare thought for smokers: health chief

Any increase in the tobacco tax will depend on whether smokers can afford it, says health chief Ko Wing-man.

Qi Luo

Monday, February 23, 2015

Any increase in the tobacco tax will depend on whether smokers can afford it, says health chief Ko Wing-man.

“We will definitely adjust the tobacco tax at the proper time to control the percentage of smokers,” he said.

“But each time we consider increasing the tax, we take into account the affordability for citizens, especially those at the grassroots level.”

Ko also said that hiking the tax is just one way to reduce the number of smokers, and that there are other options for the government to achieve the same goal.

Ko did not say whether Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah will raise the tax in the budget on Wednesday.

The Council on Smoking and Health has suggested it be doubled.

“We urge the government to raise the tobacco tax by 100 percent in 2015-16, to encourage smokers to quit and to reduce the smoking prevalence to single digits in one to two years,” it said in an open letter to Tsang.

COSH’s proposal would boost the price of a pack of cigarettes to HK$93, from HK$55. It said increasing the tax is the most effective way to encourage people to quit.

It said it will be “disappointed” if the tax isn’t put up.

COSH also believes raising the tax won’t drive people to buy illicit cigarettes, saying: “WHO [World Health Organization] has proved that there is no causal relationship between raising tobacco taxes and illicit cigarettes. In fact, illicit cigarettes also persist in countries with low tobacco taxes.”

Standardized Packaging Of Tobacco Products May Reduce Smoking, Especially Among the Youth

A collection of research papers and commentaries, peer-reviewed, were published in the journal Addiction under the title “Plain Packaging: Weighing up the evidence on standardized packaging for tobacco products” to reaffirm key parts of the evidence base, collected from years 2008 to 2015, for standardized packaging of tobacco products and its influence in reducing smoking rates and preventing lung diseases.

A recent announcement by the English government on new regulations regarding standardized packaging will be put to a vote before the general election that is set to take place in May 2015. In the event the vote is passed, England will be the second country worldwide to mandate standardized packaging, following Australia’s lead. Further, there is a strong possibility that this new measure would also be introduced in the other jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. These documents evidence the growing awareness of the potential of standardized packaging in reducing smoking.

Major findings say that plain packaging might reduce smoking in those who are current smokers since it reduces the influence of the packaging as an unconscious trigger for smoking impulses.

Further, following Australia’s 2012 policy, simple packages with larger pictured health warnings printed on it reduced smoking in outdoor and public areas such as restaurants, cafés and bars since the majority did not keep their packs on the tables. Current variations on package shape, opening method and size may also have an influence on the brand appeal and smoking risk perceptions which in turn increase cigarette sales. By removing the images regarding the brand from the cigarette packets, experimental adolescent smokers pay more visual attention to the warning health signs; however, adolescents that smoke daily remain indifferent. Standardized packaging could in fact be much more effective than large health warnings when it comes to undermining the appeal of cigarette brands and reducing the urge to buy cigarettes.

Ann McNeill, a professor who wrote the collection’s introduction, said in a press release: “Arguably, for an addictive product that kills so many of its users, the tobacco industry should consider itself fortunate that, purely through historical precedent, it is allowed to sell its toxic products at all, let alone try to make them attractive through the packaging. However, it is evidence on the likely public health impact that is the primary basis for the policy on standardized packaging.”

Tobacco companies fight ads calling themselves liars

Cigarette makers are back in court to fight a ruling forcing a public admission they had deceived the public about the dangers of smoking.

WASHINGTON—America’s biggest tobacco companies say they are ready and willing to pass along factual public health information about cigarettes.

But they say they will not go along with being forced to underwrite an ad campaign that would have the companies brand themselves as liars.

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the largest cigarette makers to publicly admit that they had lied for decades about the dangers of smoking. The ruling came after testimony from 162 witnesses, a nine-month bench trial and thousands of findings by the judge that defendants engaged in a massive campaign of fraud.

The companies argue that the ads are designed to ensure that the public “does not believe anything the companies say on any topic,” and they want an appeals court to set aside the “corrective statements,” as the ads are known, and craft new ones.

Oral arguments were set for Monday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The ads would be in all cigarette packs sold for 12 weeks over the course of two years, in TV spots once per week for a year, in a separate newspaper ad by each company, on company websites indefinitely and at certain retail outlets. They stem from a civil case the government brought in 1999 under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The preamble to the ads says a “federal court has ruled that Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA deliberately deceived the American public.” The companies say the statement is overbroad and misleading.

The companies in the case include Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the biggest U.S. tobacco company, Philip Morris USA; No. 2 cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., owned by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc.; and No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., based in Greensboro, N.C.

Kessler required the companies to publicly address smoking’s adverse health effects, nicotine manipulation and the health impact of second-hand smoke. The judge also required that the companies address the truth about “light” and “low tar” brands and the nature of cigarette addiction.

In 2009, the appeals court directed Kessler to craft corrective statements confined to purely factual and uncontroversial information that would reveal previously hidden truths about the tobacco industry’s products.

But the companies said in a recent filing that Kessler went beyond those instructions and ordered inflammatory statements that require the defendants to denigrate themselves.