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February 3rd, 2016:

Ex-top cop in fight against illicit trade

A former senior police superintendent has decided to continue fighting smuggling by joining the civil organization Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade.

Patrick Wong, who spent 37 years with the police, said smuggling is not simply a trade issue, but more of a social problem especially the profound impact it has on youths.

As such, he has decided to use his past experience not only to fight illicit trade, but also to raise public awareness.

“It’s not just a matter of buying a packet of smuggled cigarettes or a counterfeit handbag. It’s more about directly funding the criminals and providing more economic incentives for an illegal business,” Wong said.

Crime syndicates often recruit young people looking for quick cash as transportation “mules.” It is especially dangerous as it weakens the youths’ sense of the rule of law, easily turning them into habitual offenders.

Wong said he had seen many youths ruined during his years of police service.

One was a teenager who joined a triad society and sold counterfeit DVDs on the street. At age 17, he was involved in a gang fight and accidentally killed another triad member.

He was arrested and served prison time for his crime.

“If not for the profits that come with the illicit trade, this teenager might not have joined the triad and become a murderer,” Wong said.

“This incident had a profound and lasting impact on me. I believe that the illicit trade does not merely impact legitimate business, but is really a social problem that calls for the public’s serious attention.”

There is a host of illicit trade activities in Hong Kong, involving electronic products, cigarettes, fuel, ivory products, plants, cars and various types of counterfeit goods and products.

Illicit trade is so pervasive that it goes into the daily life of virtually everyone.

Wong said Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade focuses on activities that have the most serious impact on society, such as the illicit trade in cigarettes and counterfeit goods.

Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade has about 30 supporting members and individuals, including community organizations, small businesses, trade groups and individuals.

Wong said that while counterfeit DVDs have nearly died out, illicit cigarettes have become one of the most popular smuggled items.

The trade becomes particularly active in February whenever there is rumor of a possible tobacco tax hike.

In fact, both buying and selling illicit cigarettes are illegal, and public housing residents can even be evicted from their homes, Wong said.

Last year, the organization worked with Oxford Economics to release the Asia-16 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2014, showing that about one in four cigarettes consumed in the SAR comes from the black market, costing the government HK$2.5 billion in lost tax revenues.

Wong believes stiffening criminal penalties could serve as a deterrent.

35 Health Groups Urge Congress to Support TPP Provision Protecting Health Measures from Tobacco Industry Attacks

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — As the United States and 11 other countries prepare to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement later today, 35 leading public health and medical groups today urged Congress to support a TPP provision that protects life-saving tobacco control measures from tobacco industry legal attacks under the agreement.

Specifically, the TPP tobacco provision gives governments the option to exclude tobacco control measures from being challenged under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process. Tobacco companies have used ISDS provisions in other trade and investment agreements to challenge tobacco control measures adopted by Australia and Uruguay and threatened to do so against other countries.

“The provision will protect the rights of current and future TPP participating nations to adopt public health measures that reduce tobacco use without fear of facing lengthy and expensive trade disputes initiated by tobacco companies. Our organizations consider this to be a historic and meaningful step forward for global trade and investment agreements that will help to protect public health and reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco products,” the health groups wrote in a letter to members of the U.S. House and Senate.

Participating countries are scheduled to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership at 5:30 pm today in Auckland, New Zealand (11:30 am Thursday local time).

The letter states that the provision protecting tobacco control measures is necessary for several reasons:

  • Tobacco products are the only consumer products that kill when used as intended. Globally, tobacco kills about six million people each year and is projected to kill one billion people this century unless governments take strong action to prevent it. Tobacco use kills nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. each year.
  • Tobacco is subject to an international health treaty (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), which the U.S. has signed and 180 countries have ratified. The treaty obligates countries to implement effective measures to reduce tobacco use.
  • The tobacco industry has abused ISDS provisions in trade and investment agreements to challenge countries’ tobacco control efforts and to intimidate other countries from adopting such policies.

“The tobacco industry’s behavior is a real and direct threat to public health around the world and justifies the TPP tobacco control provision,” the health groups wrote.

The letter also points out that the TPP tobacco provision addresses the behavior of tobacco manufacturers and is not aimed at tobacco growers.

“The provision does not and is not intended to interfere with the livelihood of tobacco leaf growers. It is unfortunate that the tobacco industry and its allies use the age-old strategy of raising the alarm of the tobacco growers to protect the tobacco manufacturing industry interest in addicting new consumers. The fact is that tobacco growers stand to gain benefits under the TPP, such as tariff reductions, which those advocating for protection of the tobacco companies simply ignore,” the letter states.

Here is a full list of groups signing the letter:

Action on Smoking & Health
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
American Academy of Oral Medicine
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for Respiratory Care
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
American College of Chest Physicians
American College of Physicians
American College of Preventive Medicine
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Dental Hygienists’ Association
American Heart Association
American Lung Association
American Medical Association
American Psychological Association
American Public Health Association
American Society of Clinical Oncology
American Thoracic Society
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights
Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America
March of Dimes
National African American Tobacco Prevention Network
National Association of County & City Health Officials
National Network of Public Health Institutes
Prevention Institute
Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions
Society for Public Health Education
Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Trust for America’s Health