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February 2nd, 2008:

Increases In Tobacco Tax Can Help Put Off Young Smokers

2nd Feb 2008 – SCMP

I strongly support a substantial rise in tobacco tax in the forthcoming budget, as suggested in the timely letters from Tony Hedley (“Make tobacco giants pay for causing addicts so much misery”, January 27) and W. Y. Man (“Tax is best way to fight tobacco”, January 28).

Price measures have been shown around the world to be the single most effective measure in reducing tobacco use, especially among the young. How can anyone oppose this?

Hong Kong is now under international treaty obligation to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which calls upon governments to adopt tax and price policies that reduce tobacco consumption. It is no accident that the first protocol being negotiated within the convention is on smuggling. It is recognised that, even in spite of smuggling problems, tax increases significantly reduce cigarette consumption.

Smuggling seriously harms public health, helps finance criminal groups and reduces government revenue. But cigarettes are smuggled across all borders, often multi-directionally. The solution to this, as with all crimes, is for governments to fight crime and not reduce commitment to public health.

Tax increases are a win-win situation: they benefit public health and also generate more government revenue.

Hong Kong should go a step further and follow Singapore’s example of abolishing duty free cigarettes.

There can be little justification for making cheap and therefore more affordable cigarettes available, especially to the young.

We are falling well behind our neighbours in Asia, for example, Thailand uses 4 per cent of tobacco tax to fund tobacco control and public health.

The time for a further tax increase in Hong Kong is long overdue. Our graphic health warnings have received international recognition, for example, they were recently featured in a full page of a newspaper in India. Let us do the same with our tobacco taxation policy.

Dr Judith Mackay, director, Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control