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December 24th, 2016:

Hong Kong to press ahead with cigarette packaging reform

Plan includes increasing warning size and number of graphic images

Hong Kong will press ahead with cigarette packaging reform to increase warnings that “smoking kills”, despite opposition from the tobacco industry, a leading health official said on Saturday.

Cigarette packaging has remained the same since 2007 and it was time for the government to overhaul packaging, Undersecretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said.

“We feel that at this point in time it is important for us to increase the warning size and also the number of designs from six to 12,” Chan said in a radio interview.

The size of warnings on cigarette packs would increase to cover 85 per cent of the pack, from the current 50 per cent, and the number of graphic designs would double from six to 12.

Chan said Hong Kong’s measures to deter smokers were much fairer to the industry and the public than in some other countries, which had legislated unbranded plain packaging or given increased prominence to shocking pictures.

“We think [our proposal] is a balancing act, to increase the warning size to 85 per cent and increase the number of designs” she said. “We haven’t gone to plain packaging yet. We felt that this is something we can do to protect people from smoking.”

Department of Health data from 2012 showed the number of Hong Kong residents who smoke had dropped to a low of 10.2 per cent of the population.

Acting SFH on tobacco control

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Following is the transcript of remarks made by the Acting Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, after attending a radio programme today (December 24):

Reporter: The tobacco industry is not very happy with the Government’s proposal to make warning signs bigger on cigarette packages. Would the Government consider budging on its proposal? And also, under what circumstances will the Government consider imposing further measures to try to bring down the number of smokers in Hong Kong?

Acting Secretary for Food and Health: First of all, we have discussed this issue of increasing the size of the pictorial warning on cigarette packets since May 2015. There were deputations in the Legislative Council in July 2015 in which over 100 organisations attended. Most of them supported the Government’s initiative of increasing the packet warning size. The World Health Organization has suggested the larger the size of the pictorial warning on cigarette packets, the better or the more effective it is to decrease the number of people smoking. Therefore, from the statistics and evidence from different countries, we know that this is an effective tobacco control measure. So on the one hand, our packet (warning) size is now 50% and we have six different designs of pictorial warning. It hasn’t been changed since 2007, so it is almost ten years now. Therefore, we feel that at this point in time it is important for us to increase the packet warning size and also the number of designs from six to 12. The other issue is that there are also, obviously, countries that have gone even one step further, that is to go to plain packaging, i.e. 100% of the cigarette packet is already standardised and also (carries) a very big size of pictorial warning. Therefore, we think (our proposal) is already a balancing act, i.e. to increase the warning size to 85% and increase the number of designs. We haven’t gone to plain packaging yet. We felt that this is something that we can protect people from smoking. And also, it is shown that it is effective according to the evidence we collected from other countries.

Reporter: How about further measures?

Acting Secretary for Food and Health: For further measures, we always take a progressive and multi-pronged approach. We have just defined non-smoking area in the bus exchanges outside the eight tunnel portals in Hong Kong. Obviously there are other suggestions as to whether we would ban smoking at all bus stops or even on the streets. We will consider all these comments or suggestions, looking into the current tobacco control measures in Hong Kong, our smoking prevalence, our targets and also the related legislation.

Cigarette makers using devious ways to advertise to children, bypassing anti-tobacco law

Cigarette makers have resorted to devious ways to advertise, bypassing a law that bans promotion of tobacco products.

Advocates say the firms are now enticing children as young as seven years old to smoke, thus frustrating the full implementation of the Tobacco Control Act.

International Institute for Legislative Affairs chief executive Emma Wanyonyi said the industry is openly advertising cigarettes through conspicuous shop displays at the eye-level of young children.

“The industry is not only advertising their products, but also displaying products to children due to lack of enforcement,” she said.

Wanyonyi said even though one local company has started printing the graphic warnings as demanded by the Tobacco Control Regulations, 2014, the industry is already in court challenging those regulations.

The regulations seek to operationalise the 2007 Tobacco Control Act.

The sale of single stick cigarettes is also widespread, close to schools, although it is illegal, she said.

Wanyonyi challenged the Agriculture ministry to come to the rescue of farmers, who are still dependent on tobacco for them to have alternative crops.

“Tobacco growing depletes soil but researches that have been done show that there are alternative crops that can be grown,” she said.

Tobacco is the biggest known preventable cause of cancer and other non-communicable diseases.

Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance member Achieng Otieno said tobacco industries are so powerful as they have in the recent past compromised a section of MPS.

“The fact that the industry is well resourced has been a challenge in the implementation of the new law,” he said, adding that it has taken the country nine years to come up with new regulations.

Ochieng said even though they have written to EACC concerning bribery allegations by industry to MPS with the view of influencing some of the policies, EACC is yet to respond to them, one year later.

The World Health Organisation says last year, Kenyans smoked eight million cigarette sticks, compared to 6.5 million in 2013.

Tobacco industry in the country is vehemently opposed to new regulations regulating the manufacture, sale and advertising of tobacco products.

The regulations demand that pictures of dead babies, throat cancer and rotten teeth should appear on cigarette packets next month.

They include pictures of punctured throats and cancerous lung.

The regulations require both pictorial and text health warnings printed on the packets.

Also known as plain packaging, the move aims at dissuading current and potential smokers by giving them information on the harmful effects of nicotine and tar.