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Tobacco Hike What Doc Orders

Adele Wong, The Standard – Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An anti-smoking activist has called on the government to drastically increase tax on cigarettes since they cost less in real terms today than seven years ago when the tax was last raised.

Professor Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control and senior policy adviser to World Health Organization, said a higher tobacco tax will help cut the number of smokers.

“Taxation is the single most effective measure to reduce smoking,” Mackay said, citing overseas experience showing a relationship between higher tax and a decrease in sales.

“The Hong Kong government thinks education is the key,” Mackay said, adding that she disagreed.

“If taxes are raised to at least 75 percent of the retail value as opposed to the current 50-plus percent, it will have a big impact,” Mackay said.

“The last tax increase in Hong Kong was in 2001, when it was raised by only 5 percent. Thus cigarettes are becoming cheaper in real terms, year by year. It is no surprise that consumption is rising in Hong Kong, in spite of all our other actions.”

Mackay credited Hong Kong for being one of only about 20 places to insist on pictorial warnings on cigarette packets. But it is now time to go further and push for plain packaging carrying nothing but the name of the product and a warning, stripping it of any advertising appeal.

“Several countries are actively considering this,” Mackay said. “[We should push for] Hong Kong to be the first.”

Mackay said Hong Kong should also be meticulous and careful when deciding on smoking regulations.
In the past some lawmakers pushed for extensions and exemptions to the smoking ban implemented in restaurants in 2007, resulting in an uneven playing field and chaos.

Mackay was recently given approval by the Clinton Global Initiative for a Hong Kong- based project aimed at providing corporate incentive programs to migrant workers in China who demonstrate good health habits.

Related Materials:
1. Tobacco control by taxation in Australia and UK (In the UK taxation amounts to 77% of the sale price of tobacco products and is in excess of HK$50 per packet. In Australia taxation amounts to 62.5% of the retail price)
2. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC)
3. A 70% increase in the price of tobacco could prevent up to a quarter of all smoking-related deaths worldwide (shown on WHO mPower report)

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