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Government could save lives by raising cigarette taxes

Submitted by admin on Feb 19th 2013, 12:00am



Howard Winn

Readers may know that Hong Kong’s poor air quality has accounted for an average of 3,200 premature deaths over the past five years. The government is finally making noises about doing something about it. But an even bigger killer is tobacco-related deaths. These amount to 7,000 deaths a year in Hong Kong, and about six million globally. Indeed as a letter from the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health in our august organ pointed out yesterday, one in every two smokers dies from a tobacco-related disease. This is a figure that is now accepted by the World Health Organisation. Hong Kong’s record in tobacco control has not been bad over the past 20 years. But given the chilling effects of smoking on both those that smoke and those around them, from passive smoking, Hong Kong needs to upgrade its efforts to get ahead of the curve. Firstly it needs to increase the tax on tobacco. All the authorities, WHO, the World Bank and others agree that price is one of the biggest deterrents, particularly among young people. The WHO recommends that cigarettes be taxed at a minimum of 70 per cent of the retail price. In Hong Kong, the tax on a packet of 20 cigarettes selling for HK$50 is about 68 per cent, which is by far the lowest among developed countries. In Sydney, the same brand of cigarettes sells for HK$139.60, in New York HK$95.87, London HK$90.70, and Singapore HK$76.50. Another aspect of smoking is the high hospital costs of treating tobacco-related diseases, which in Hong Kong amount to HK$6 billion a year. So there are a number of compelling reasons for the financial secretary to raise the tobacco tax in his forthcoming budget.

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