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January 28th, 2008:

Tax Is Best Way To Fight Tobacco

Jan 28, 2008 – SCMP

Any consideration of tobacco tax cannot be viewed from the perspective of profit to industry or government revenue.

Increasing tax is the single most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption – it is an important public health tool to curb smoking in society, especially among the young, and thereby decreasing the diseases and deaths so caused.

As a public health physician, I congratulate Hong Kong for having passed the tobacco control legislation in 2006.

However, the proportion of smokers quitting has not been satisfactory. Tobacco is still the deadliest consumer product sold legally and it promises to kill more than half of its regular consumers. Any standalone controlled measure, even an effective smoking ban in public places, cannot be relied upon for lasting changes.

In 2007, the government did not boost its quit-smoking services to coincide with the smoking ban, thereby losing a golden opportunity for tobacco control. There remains another chance that tobacco consumption in the community can be controlled at no extra cost to the government, and that is to increase tobacco tax.

At present, our tobacco tax policy is shamefully below the world standard. In Hong Kong, tax amounts to less than half of the retail price of cigarettes, while The World Bank proposes the proportion should be two-thirds to four-fifths.

Our tobacco tax policy is backward and uncivilised compared with other world cities, and the best time to increase tobacco tax is now.

Dr W. Y. Wan, director of Public Health Consultancy Network