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Higher Tobacco Taxes Urged To Curb Disease

Ng Yuk-hang, SCMP – Feb 24, 2009

Governments around the world, including Hong Kong’s, should consider raising tobacco taxes in an effort to curb smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, according to a director of the World Health Organisation.

“Tobacco tax is controversial,” the WHO’s chronic diseases and health promotion director, Fiona Adshead, said. “But there is good evidence to show that the best way to reduce smoking is to raise taxes, so the cost of smoking becomes so high that people have to quit.”

According to customs statistics, a tobacco tax of 80 cents per cigarette levied in Hong Kong, unchanged since 2001, makes Hong Kong cigarettes among the cheapest in the developed economies. Last year a total of 3.79 billion cigarettes were consumed, 8 per cent more than in 2007.

Dr Adshead also said the government should provide more practical support in public hospitals for smokers who were trying to quit. But she said Hong Kong was a step ahead of many places trying to introduce smoking bans in public spaces.

“Hong Kong is taking impressive steps when compared to the rest of the world,” she said. “Processes in many countries are delayed because of differences in public opinion or for political reasons.”

She said the implementation of the final stage of Hong Kong’s smoking ban in July, which will prohibit smoking in bars, nightclubs and mahjong parlours, would “definitely strengthen the effort”.

Dr Adshead was in town for an anti-tobacco symposium and was given a city tour by health officials. She visited a “healthy city” competition in Tuen Mun, a primary school which provides healthy lunches and dined at a restaurant which had joined the “EatSmart” campaign.

She said the Department of Health had done a good job on health promotion, as reflected by its “social marketing” strategy – in which commercial principles were used to promote social issues so that health promotion became “fun and enjoyable”.

Dr Adshead said health promotion did not only yield health benefits but could also enhance child-parent relationships, as she had seen in the primary school she visited where parents joined their children for lunch.

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