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July 11th, 2015:

Time to Quit: Australian health experts urge Hong Kong to adopt plain cigarette packaging

Ben Westcott

Smokers in Hong Kong spend an average of HK$20,440 a year, a study found in May.

Australian public health experts have called on Hong Kong to follow their country’s example by introducing tougher restrictions on cigarettes, including larger warnings and plain packaging. Since Australia introduced plain packaging in 2012, sales of cigarettes have plunged and the number of smokers has dropped, as surveys show smoking becoming less attractive to consumers. “Most smokers don’t want to be smokers,” said Professor Simon Chapman, of the University of Sydney School of Public Health. “Plain packaging is a constant reminder, every time you take it out, with those massive health warnings, about what the consequences of smoking are.”

Australia introduced standardised plain packaging for cigarettes in 2012

Australia introduced standardised plain packaging for cigarettes in 2012

Hong Kong’s Food and Health Bureau is campaigning for larger health warnings on cigarette packets, increasing the amount of space covered from 50 to 85 per cent. The government already puts health warnings on packets and is planning to expand them, along with banning e-cigarettes. Tobacco companies and smokers have strongly opposed the new measures, which the Legislative Council is planning to vote on this year. But Australian experts have encouraged Hong Kong to go further, using mandatory, unattractive packaging to further discourage smokers.

“France has announced it is [introducing plain packaging],” Chapman said. “Ireland and the United Kingdom have announced they are doing it. I just saw Hungary is likely to do it. South Africa, Brazil, Chile are all talking about doing it.” Chapman said it was only a matter of time until the whole world adopted plain-packaging, as it had with health warnings on packets. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, total expenditure on tobacco and cigarettes in March this year fell to the lowest ever recorded, dropping by A$600 million (HK$3.46 billion) since the introduction of plain packaging, or 15 per cent.

In addition, smoking rates fell from 15.9 per cent to 13.3 per cent of the adult population in 2013.

“The evidence about the impact of plain packaging in Australia is extremely encouraging,” the president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, Professor Mike Daube, told the Post.

“Research reports in prestigious peer-reviewed journals show that attitudes to smoking and cigarette packs are heading in the predicted directions among adults and young people. “I would strongly recommend plain packaging to governments … as a key component of tobacco control strategies.”

Quitting is so hard

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