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Speaking against illegal tobacco, for tobacco

Robin Jolly

One of the more vocal voices against the illegal tobacco trade is Robin Jolly, convenor of the organisation Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco (HKUAIT). To a normal reader, Jolly’s position may seem like a strange and ambiguous one: he comments and speaks against cigarette smuggling, but it is always as if cigarette smuggling is a problem of its own; one would be hard pressed to hear him talk about smoking as the problem itself. Part of that is because Jolly’s work at HKUAIT is funded by tobacco giant, Philip Morris, but it would not be quite right to suggest that it is in the interest of the tobacco industry to fight the illegal tobacco trade. Rather, Philip Morris employs multi-pronged strategies for its business survival: genuine Philip Morris products are oversupplied into the black market to keep cigarettes within the purchasing power of consumers, while apparently independent organisations such as HKUAIT attacks cigarette smuggling to distract and confuse public views on the issue of smoking as a health hazard.

In July 2013, for example, Jolly announces his praise for police action on illegal cigarettes, highlighting the criminal aspects of the illegal trade to attract public attention. More recently, he plays with the alarm bells in a letter published in the SCMP, where he passively attacks the government for its increased tobacco control measures (claiming it ‘drives the whole market underground’) and speaks of the illegal cigarette trade as a ‘real problem’ and a ‘menace to society’. Clearer minds would, no doubt, recognize smoking itself as the real problem and the menace to society, although there can be little done about Philip Morris and other tobacco companies continuing to fund Jolly’s organization to send confusing messages to the general public.


Robin Jolly congratulates Tuen Mun Police Division

Robin Jolly today congratulated Tuen Mun Police on behalf of Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco (HKUAIT) for their alertness and timely action against an illicit cigarette sales outlet and storage facility in Tuen Mun.

“The resolute action by local police that resulted in the seizure of 345,000 illicit cigarettes is a good example of brazen illicit cigarette sales activity that is taking place in many police districts and divisions,” said Robin Jolly, the convenor of HKUAIT.

Police also seized a quantity of illicit tobacco sales fliers or leaflets that advertised sale of 43 different brands from Mainland China and Vietnam.

“These fliers are typical of those distributed through letter boxes in housing estates throughout Hong Kong indicating that this is a well-organized criminal enterprise that flaunts the law.  The fact that distributors can operate so openly in our communities, provide telephone contact details and offer door-to-door delivery service undermines Hong Kong’s image and reputation as a law-abiding city”, said Mr. Jolly.

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About the Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco:

The Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco is an advocacy organization with the sole purpose of tackling the serious problems arising from the illicit tobacco trade in Hong Kong. It represents a cross-section of society, including community organizations, small businesses, trade associations and individuals who are affected by illicit tobacco trade.

Supporting organizations of the Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco include:

  • Mega Hospitality International (MHI)
  • Infinitum Technology Co., Ltd.
  • Millennium Wells Ltd.
  • Coalition of Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants
  • Hong Kong Newspaper Hawker Association
  • Coalition on Tobacco Affairs (CTA)
  • Philip Morris Asia Limited
  • The Office of Wong Tai Sin District Councillor Lai Wing-Ho
  • The Office of Legislative Councillor Paul Tse Wai-chun
  • The Office of Tsuen Wan District Councillor Kot Siu-Yuen
  • The Office of Tsuen Wan District Councillor Man Yu-Ming
  • The Office of Eastern District Councillor Marcus Tse
  • Tsuen Wan Kwai Ching District Women’s Association
  • Hong Kong Shippers’ Council

18 Jul 2013
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Public education programme can cut illicit cigarette sales

by Robin Jolly, convenor, Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco

The proliferation of illicit tobacco in Hong Kong is at an unprecedented level, with more than one in three cigarettes being illegal.

The release of an academic study this month was not controversial to the many smokers who patronise the trade, and any dispute about pricing not being one of the primary drivers is specious in the extreme.

Whether or not 35.9 per cent of the cigarettes consumed in Hong Kong are illicit is not really the issue; the fact that Hong Kong stands second in the league table of this shameful illicit trade is something the authorities and the community at large cannot ignore.

Illicit trading is clearly a matter of supply and demand. Whether the commodities involved are cigarettes, counterfeit goods or dangerous drugs, there will always be enterprising criminals willing to flout the law to meet that demand.

The higher the profit margin, the more attractive the enterprise, especially when the risks are assessed to be low, with minimal penalties for those who get caught.

Only Brunei topped Hong Kong in the league table, with almost 90 per cent of cigarettes consumed estimated to be illegal.

This astronomical percentage should not come as a surprise given the steep rise in prices, following an excessive excise tax increase in 2010. This, together with the implementation of stringent licensing requirements for retailers, effectively forced the whole market underground.

Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco does not suggest, much less support, any cut in excise duty on cigarettes. Taxation is a matter for the government, but the authorities should be concerned that we are losing over HK$3 billion in taxes to organised crime that is behind the trade in illicit cigarettes.

The role of this advocacy group is to raise public awareness and speak for those who are genuinely concerned about a very real problem that is not going to go away without more robust law enforcement.

To date, I am not convinced the government even acknowledges the problem, much less the scale, notwithstanding the rising seizures of illicit cigarettes this year. It might help if there was a proactive public education programme like we have seen for counterfeit goods so we may bring about a change of attitude to tackle this menace to society.

22 Oct 2013
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