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April, 2008:

A Stricter And Wider Ban On Smoking In Public Places

An Inconvenient Truth

Beijing Review – April 23, 2008 – Li Li

Only a stricter and wider ban on smoking in public places will rid China of the health burdens caused by tobacco

On the eve of the national publicity week for tumor prevention and control starting on April 14, Wu Yilong, Deputy Principal of Guangdong Provincial People’s Hospital, revealed an inconvenient truth to the media: children and adolescents are increasingly becoming the victims of smoking induced cancers.

Wu told Guangzhou Daily that his hospital received three young lung cancer patients of around 20 in 2007, all diagnosed with senior stage cancer. Each of them was a non-smoker, but had been subject to an environment of frequent passive smoking. “Studies exhibit that it usually takes 15 years of being exposed to the pollution of smoke to developing cancer,” Wu was quoted as saying. He said children were particularly sensitive to the cancer-causing agents in cigarette smoke as their bodies are still growing.

Beijing issued new rules in March to expand smoking restrictions from schools, sports arenas and movie theaters to bars, Internet cafes, hotels, offices, holiday resorts and all indoor areas of medical facilities from May 1. Besides being a move to meet China’s pledge of a smoke-free Olympics, this new measure will hopefully reduce the kind of tragedies Wu has seen.

Secondhand smoke

China has 350 million smokers, the largest national smoker population in the world. Meanwhile, 540 million Chinese are victims of secondhand smoke, of who 180 million are children under 15 years of age, according to the annual tobacco control report of the Ministry of Health for 2007.

Professor Li Yan of the Tumor Surgery Department of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University said during an interview in April that tobacco smoke out of smokers’ mouth with moisture was like an aerosol, more penetrating than smoke from lit tobacco. As an aerosol it attacks all the respiratory organs, including windpipes, bronchi and lung air sacs. Children’s lungs have weaker mucous membrane, which makes them more vulnerable to poisoning from secondhand smoke.

According to figures on the occurrence of cancer in 2006 released by the Ministry of Health recently, lung cancer was the most deadly cancer for both Chinese men and women.

Zhou Huaqing, Principal of Tianjin Medical University General Hospital and a renowned lung cancer expert, said it is common knowledge within the international medical community that smoking is the most important cause of lung cancer and over 80 percent of lung cancer cases are related to smoking or passive smoking.

He said of the more than 5,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, over 50 are cancer-causing agents, which could do more harm to passive smokers than to smokers themselves. He said the intensity of some cancer-causing agents in the smoke in the air from a lit cigarette is higher than that of smoke inhaled by smokers, such as nitrosamines.

The report also revealed that according to the national prevalence surveys on smoking from 1984, 1996 and 2002, although the numbers of smokers among the population was declining, there was no progress in passive smoking.

Zhejiang Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a survey on smoking in 2007, which indicated that one of every three middle school students was an active or passive smoker at school and over half of middle school students were active or passive smokers at home.

Starting young

A survey by Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention last year was conducted on 1,302 students, including 731 males and 571 females, with 949 of the students less than 18 years old. The researchers found that 21.1 percent of the respondents had tried smoking, 24 percent among male respondents and 6.3 percent among female respondents, and 6 percent has bought cigarettes in the last month. Among those who had started smoking, 24 percent had tried smoking before the age of seven.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that Chinese smokers are starting younger. Compared with 1984, the average first cigarette age of Chinese smokers in 2002 had dropped by four to five years, to 18 for males and 20 for females. The national prevalence surveys on smoking of 1984, 1996 and 2002 showed that the population of adolescent smokers had expanded to at least 50 million.

Yan Jie, an expert on children’s tumors at Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital, told Tianjin Daily in a report in April that children became smokers mainly due to their surrounding environment. Yan said children have stronger curiosity toward new things than adults and like imitating what adults do. Therefore, children often smoke at first by imitating adult smokers around them and smokers on television; they smoke for fun and the rebellious air in the beginning and gradually get addicted and become serious smokers.

China signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in November 2003 and approved it in August 2005. The FCTC officially came into force on January 9, 2006. According to Article 8 of the FCTC, member states are required to adopt and implement legislative measures to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke. This includes indoor workplaces, public transport, and, as appropriate, other public places. Beijing’s smoking ban in most public places starting from May 1 is a step forward in implementing the convention clause.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day on May 31 this year is ‘tobacco-free youth.’ The Ministry of Health announced on April 8 that kindergartens, primary and middle schools nationwide should become totally tobacco free.

Smoking fallacies

The tobacco control report of the Ministry of Health for 2007 said although public knowledge on the harm caused by smoking has been steadily rising in China in recent years–with the knowledge rate rising from 24 percent in 1996 to 35 percent in 2002–much of the public still holds fallacies about smoking.

After the Tianjin Daily published an article titled Smokers Are 10 Times More Likely to Have Lung Cancer Than Non-smokers on March 31, the newspaper received calls from suspicious readers, questioning why some chain-smokers never get lung cancer while some non-smokers die from lung cancer, and why people get cancer immediately after quitting smoking.

The newspaper dismissed the misunderstandings by publishing another article two weeks later, saying that the only way to reduce the possibility of getting lung cancer is to quit smoking, the earlier the better.

Beijing has led the country in opening clinics in hospitals to help people quit. In 1996, the city had 22 smoking cessation clinics affiliated to hospitals, most of which closed in less than a year due to nominal visits. Only three remained by April 2007.

Chaoyang Hospital was the first hospital in China to have a smoking cessation clinic. Xiao Dan, a doctor in the clinic, said in an interview with Beijing Evening News in 2007 that the general atmosphere on tobacco control in the beginning was so bad that they received less than 1,000 people altogether in the first few years. Things turned around after her clinic received an interview with China Central Television, which was broadcast nationwide in September 2006.

Three new clinics in Beijing were officially launched on World No Tobacco Day in 2007, which were regarded by the local government as a measure to meet China’s pledge of a smoke-free Olympics.

The three clinics, two opening half a day a week and one opening one day a week, held consultations with 1,000 people in their first three months of operation, according to Beijing Municipal Health Bureau.

Liu Xiurong, an official at the Beijing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supervising the three new clinics, said Beijing Municipal Health Bureau had provided free training for doctors at the clinics on the methods and medication for smoking cessation that have been proved useful and safe in other countries. She said the doctors usually spend at least 40 minutes on one therapy session with patients and one treatment lasts two to three months. The medicine and nicotine patch used cost about 600 yuan ($85.7).

“We will definitely embrace a boom with the implementation of a smoking ban in public places in May. So many people will be looking to quit smoking or at least to find ways to reduce their consumption,” Liu told Beijing Review.

Should Tobacco Tax Be Increased

TALKBACK – Should tobacco tax be increased ?

The so called ‘ smoking ban ‘ has been a dismal failure. The Government has allowed a smoking exemption to any licensed bar applying for one and even restaurants if they state that they earn more from alcoholic drinks’ sales than food sales.

It is business as usual for the tobacco companies. The University of Hong Kong handles just one quitline capable of a maximum of 400 callers. In Hong Kong there are currently almost 16,000 replacement smokers in the 15-19 age group. This is a sham.

More than 1,324 people die a year in Hong Kong from passive smoking. In 2006 pre smoking ban, there were 3331.74 million duty paid cigarettes sold in Hong Kong; in 2007 after the smoking ban 3495.73 million duty paid cigarettes were sold here. The Government reaped 2.834 billion in tobacco tax in 2007 but plied next to nothing into smoking prevention, multi lingual Quitlines and therapy. The Financial Secretary, despite repeated requests from expert sources, failed in his Budget to increase the tobacco tax which is proven worldwide to be the most effective measure in reducing smoking especially amongst youth.

On the contrary, in UK which has had a comprehensive smoking ban without exemptions since July last year , tax of $62 a packet and available and ready services to those who want to quit, there has been a 4% decrease in tobacco use in just 8 months.

James Middleton
Clear The Air

Should The Tax On Tobacco Be Increased?

Updated on Apr 22, 2008 – SCMP

When you are out in the streets of Hong Kong, you will see a lot of smokers.

I think the problem related to smoking outdoors has been made worse now that smoking is banned in many venues. This means that when there are a lot of smokers outside in any one place, it is difficult for non-smokers like me to enjoy fresh air.

I am also concerned, from a health point of view, about the effect this can have on non-smokers. Therefore, in order to decrease the prevalence of smoking in Hong Kong, the government should raise the tax on tobacco.

Not only can it prevent smoking-related diseases, but it will also discourage new smokers, especially youngsters, from lighting up.

However, this may not be completely effective. As people’s living standards improve, the cost of buying cigarettes will not be that great a drain on people’s resources.

Therefore, I would suggest that the Hong Kong government follow the policy launched in Japan, where people are not allowed to smoke in the streets and residential areas. They would only be allowed to smoke in designated areas.

I think this would be the most effective way of dealing with the smoking problem in Hong Kong.

Liu Ming-ming, Sham Shui Po

Cigarette Companies Have Infiltrated Administration

Experts say cigarette companies have infiltrated administration

Mary Ann Benitez – SCMP – Updated on Apr 18, 2008

Senior government officials are being chummy with tobacco industry insiders who have infiltrated the administration, even using the industry’s stock phrases to rationalise why Hong Kong has not increased tobacco duties, international experts said yesterday.

David Simpson, former director of Action on Smoking and Health UK who recommended the setting up of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, said his main concern for Hong Kong was “that tobacco industry people have taken positions in influential places where in my view they should not be permitted to be”.

He pointed to government officials using the phrase “people who choose to smoke”.

“For example, we heard that at quite senior level in a private conversation, a senior government official was saying it is difficult to ask taxpayers to foot the bill when people choose to smoke,” Dr Simpson, director of the International Agency on Tobacco and Health, said.

“Why should taxpayers have to pay for the cost of enticing them to quit?” he said, adding: “There is only one source of the phrase `choose to smoke’.”

The hard-hitting statements were made at a press briefing yesterday on the eve of today’s seminar on priority issues on tobacco control. Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok will give the keynote address.

Dr Simpson said the phrase being used by senior officials raises “a red flag of warning to me that government has somehow been infiltrated by the tobacco industry”.

The phrase was “straight tobacco propaganda”.

“And immediately when I heard this phrase, it’s like when you meet a gangster, you can tell he is a gangster because of the bulge of the gun in his pocket. This is the verbal equivalent. Those people have been spending too much time with tobacco industry people,” he said.

Hana Ross, strategic director of the American Cancer Society’s international tobacco surveillance programme, called on Hong Kong to raise tobacco duties because it had been shown in many countries that taxes were the most effective tobacco control measure.

The last time tobacco duties rose in Hong Kong was in 2001.

“Taxes are the most effective tobacco control measure that can be used,” Dr Ross said.

Affordability of tobacco products improved in Hong Kong in 2005, almost to the same level as in 1997, she said, adding that she expected the affordability of the products would now be even higher than in 1997.

Comparing cigarette prices in the region last year, Hong Kong is behind Singapore, Canada and Australia.

But if one looked at the prices of tobacco adjusted for local purchasing power, Hong Kong was almost at the same level as Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. “Cigarettes here are really becoming very affordable,” Dr Ross said.

Since 2000, the prevalence of smoking had levelled off.

“If taxes are not increased, we will not see as much decrease in smoking prevalence in Hong Kong,” Dr Ross said.

By increasing taxes on tobacco products by 20 per cent, the number of smokers could be cut by 21,000, and 5,250 smoking-related deaths could be prevented, she said.

Anthony Hedley, chair professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong’s school of public health, said: “We need to raise the red flag. Hong Kong is in serious danger of stalling in the process [of tobacco control], of losing its place regionally or globally, and indeed, in relative terms, of going backwards.”

Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control in Hong Kong, said that since 2000, the tobacco industry had put on a “charm offensive” and this had led to what she called “a recession” in tobacco control.

She said this might be because Hong Kong had to battle an economic crisis, had been distracted by Sars and bird flu, or that the tobacco industry had become more influential in government.

Philip Morris International Commences New Plans to Spread Death and Disease

by Robert Weissman – April 15th, 2008

Philip Morris International today starts business as an independent company, no longer affiliated with Philip Morris USA or the parent company, Altria. Philip Morris USA will sell Marlboro and other cigarettes in the United States. Philip Morris International will trample over the rest of the world.

Public health advocates have worried and speculated over the past year about what this move may mean, but Philip Morris International has now removed all doubts.

The world is about to meet a Philip Morris International that will be even more predatory in pushing its toxic products worldwide.

The new Philip Morris International will be unconstrained by public opinion in the United States — the home country and largest market of the old, unified Philip Morris — and will no longer fear lawsuits in the United States.

As a result, Thomas Russo of the investment fund Gardner Russo & Gardner tells Bloomberg, the company “won’t have to worry about getting pre-approval from the U.S. for things that are perfectly acceptable in foreign markets.” Russo’s firm owns 5.7 million shares of Altria and now Philip Morris International.

A commentator for The Motley Fool investment advice service writes, “the Marlboro Man is finally free to roam the globe unfettered by the legal and marketing shackles of the U.S. domestic market.”

In February, the World Health Organization issued a new report on the global tobacco epidemic. WHO estimates the Big Tobacco-fueled epidemic now kills more than 5 million people every year.

Five million people.

By 2030, WHO estimates 8 million will die a year from tobacco-related disease, 80 percent in the developing world.

The WHO report emphasizes that known and proven public health policies can dramatically reduce smoking rates. These policies include indoor smoke-free policies; bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; heightened taxes; effective warnings; and cessation programs. These “strategies are within the reach of every country, rich or poor and, when combined as a package, offer us the best chance of reversing this growing epidemic,” says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

Most countries have failed to adopt these policies, thanks in no small part to decades-long efforts by Philip Morris and the rest of Big Tobacco to deploy political power to block public health initiatives. Thanks to the momentum surrounding a global tobacco treaty, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted in 2005, this is starting to change. There’s a long way to go, but countries are increasingly adopting sound public health measures to combat Big Tobacco.

Now Philip Morris International has signaled its initial plans to subvert these policies.

The company has announced plans to inflict on the world an array of new products, packages and marketing efforts. These are designed to undermine smoke-free workplace rules, defeat tobacco taxes, segment markets with specially flavored products, offer flavored cigarettes sure to appeal to youth, and overcome marketing restrictions.

The Chief Operating Officer of Philip Morris International, Andre Calantzopoulos, detailed in a March investor presentation two new products, Marlboro Wides, “a shorter cigarette with a wider diameter,”and Marlboro Intense, “a rich, flavorful, shorter cigarette.”

Sounds innocent enough, as far as these things go.

That’s only to the innocent mind.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Philip Morris International’s underlying objective: “The idea behind Intense is to appeal to customers who, due to indoor smoking bans, want to dash outside for a quick nicotine hit but don’t always finish a full-size cigarette.”

Workplace and indoor smoke-free rules protect people from second-hand smoke, but also make it harder for smokers to smoke. The inconvenience (and stigma of needing to leave the office or restaurant to smoke) helps smokers smoke less and, often, quit. Subverting smoke-free bans will damage an important tool to reduce smoking.

Philip Morris International says it can adapt to high taxes. If applied per pack (or per cigarette), rather than as a percentage of price, high taxes more severely impact low-priced brands (and can help shift smokers to premium brands like Marlboro). But taxes based on price hurt Philip Morris International.

Philip Morris International’s response? “Other Tobacco Products,” which Calantzopoulos describes as “tax-driven substitutes for low-price cigarettes.” These include, says Calantzopoulos, “the ‘tobacco block,’which I would describe as the perfect make-your-own cigarette device.” In Germany, roll-your-own cigarettes are taxed far less than manufactured cigarettes, and Philip Morris International’s “tobacco block” is rapidly gaining market share.

One of the great industry deceptions over the last several decades is selling cigarettes called “lights” (as in Marlboro Lights), “low”or “mild” — all designed to deceive smokers into thinking they are safer.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control says these inherently misleading terms should be barred. Like other companies in this regard, Philip Morris has been moving to replace the names with color coding — aiming to convey the same ideas, without the now-controversial terms.

Calantzopoulos says Philip Morris International will work to more clearly differentiate Marlboro Gold (lights) from Marlboro Red (traditional) to “increase their appeal to consumer groups and segments that Marlboro has not traditionally addressed.”

Another, related initiative is Marlboro Filter Plus, which claims to reduce tar levels. First launched in Korea, in 2006, Calantzopoulos says it has recorded “an impressive 22 percent share” among what the company designates as “Young Adult Smokers.”

Philip Morris International also is unrolling a range of new Marlboro products with obvious attraction for youth. These include Marlboro Ice Mint, Marlboro Crisp Mint and Marlboro Fresh Mint, introduced into Japan and Hong Kong last year. It is exporting clove products from Indonesia.

Responding to increasing advertising restrictions and large, pictorial warnings required on packs, Marlboro is focusing increased attention on packaging. Fancy slide packs make the package more of a marketing device than ever before, and may be able to obscure warning labels.

Most worrisome of all may be the company’s forays into China, the biggest cigarette market in the world, which has largely been closed to foreign multinationals. Philip Morris International has hooked up with the China National Tobacco Company, which controls sales in China. Philip Morris International will sell Chinese brands in Europe. Much more importantly, licensed versions of Marlboro are expected to be available in China starting this summer. The Chinese aren’t letting Philip Morris International in quickly — Calantzopoulos says “we do not foresee a material impact on our volume and profitability in the near future.” But, he adds, “we believe this long-term strategic cooperation will prove to be mutually beneficial and form the foundation for strong long-term growth.”

What does long-term growth mean? In part, it means gaining market share among China’s 350 million smokers. But it also means expanding the market, by selling to girls and women. About 60 percent of men in China smoke; only 2 or 3 percent of women do so.

The global vilification of Big Tobacco over the last decade and a half is one of the world’s great public health stories. Directly connected to that vilification has been a reduction in smoking, and adoption of life-saving policies that will avert millions of deaths.

Yet here comes Philip Morris International, now the world’s largest nongovernmental tobacco company. It is permitted to break off from Altria with no regulatory restraint. It proceeds to announce plans to subvert the public health policies that offer the best hope for reducing the toll of tobacco-related death and disease. The markets applaud, governments are mute.

What an extraordinary commentary on the political and ideological potency of the multinational corporation — and the idea that corporations should presumptively be free to do what they want, with only the most minimal of restraints.

Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action. Copyright © 2007 Robert Weissman Read other articles by Robert, or visit Robert’s website.

Beijing’s Smoking Pollution To Remain Cloudy

The Province – 15th April 2008

Vancouver isn’t the only place where banning smoking in bars and restaurants results in a fog of complaints.

It is a difficult challenge, even in Communist-run China.

And Chinese officials appear to have have softened a plan to restrict smoking in Beijing restaurants, bars and internet cafes during the Olympics, citing concerns from business owners.

According to China Daily, separate smoking rooms will be required instead of the ban, starting May 1.

“It is difficult for us to control smoking in restaurants. It’s just part of the culture,” puffed Zhang Peili, an official with the municipal government’s legislative affairs office. “”Originally, we wanted restaurants to keep 70 per cent of their areas smoke-free, but owners of Chinese restaurants – both big and small – worried the plan would hurt their business.”

The city had previously promised “a smoke-free Olympics.”

The rule change means only government offices, schools, museums, hospitals and sports venues will be designated as totally smoke-free areas.

Major cities including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao are also mulling amending laws on public smoking as part of a nationwide campaign in the run-up to the Olympics.

In Hong Kong, which banned smoking in restaurants on Jan. 1., 40 per cent of restaurants reported their business was down as a result.

Beijing banned smoking in taxis in October and launched a drive targeting businesses and residents last year.

Smoking is banned in cinemas, gymnasiums and other enclosed public places in Beijing although the rules are not strictly enforced.

The new regulations extend smoking bans to sport venues and fitness centers, but allow smoking away from “service areas” at restaurants, bars, clubs and parks. Hotels would be required to provide non-smoking rooms.

The Chinese are among the world’s most enthusiastic smokers, with a market of about 350 million.

Beijing Drops Restaurants in Smoking Ban

By HENRY SANDERSON – Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing has backtracked on a proposed public smoking ban ahead of this summer’s Olympics, with a city official saying Monday that restaurants will no longer be included due to concerns it would hurt their business.

Lighting up in restaurants will be allowed after the citywide ban goes into effect May 1 as long as they have separate smoking and nonsmoking areas, said Zhang Peili, an official with Beijing’s municipal government supervising the ban.

Restaurants that do not comply will be fined $714, Zhang said, though she added that implementing the regulation will be “extremely difficult.”

“There is a Chinese saying that tobacco and alcohol always come together. This has developed into the Chinese people’s habit,” she said.

The China Daily newspaper reported Monday that bars and Internet cafes also would be exempt from the ban after originally being included. The newspaper said the government was worried a stricter smoking restriction on restaurants would hurt their business.

China is home to 350 million smokers — a third of the global total.

Beijing pledged to hold a smoke-free Olympics and last month proposed a smoking ban in government offices, sports venues, hospitals and museums. Last week, Chinese media reported it would also be extended to primary and secondary school campuses.

Last October, Beijing banned smoking in the city’s 66,000 taxis, threatening drivers with a $29 fine if they are caught.

In 2005, China ratified World Health Organization rules that urged it, within three years, to restrict tobacco advertising and sponsorship, put tougher health warnings on cigarettes, raise tobacco prices and taxes, curb secondhand smoke, prohibit cigarette sales to minors and clamp down on smuggling of cigarettes.

Big Tobacco Handed Victory by Manhattan Appeals Court

Date Published: Monday, April 14th, 2008 – News Inferno

Tobacco giants Brown & Williamson Holdings and Philip Morris USA won a huge victory last week when a Manhattan appeals court reversed a ruling in favor of a lung cancer victim who had argued that the cigarette makers were negligent by failing to market only “light cigarettes”. In a 3-2 decision the appellate division ruled that the plaintiff failed to prove that light cigarettes would “have been acceptable to the consumers that constitute the market for the allegedly defective product,” regular cigarettes.

However, two dissenting judges sharply criticized the tobacco companies, finding that the test of consumer acceptability amounted to “nothing more than a cynical effort by the defendants to maintain the commercial advantages of continuing to sell unreasonably dangerous addictive products to addicts.”

The lawsuit in question was filed by Norma Rose, a 73-year-old woman diagnosed with lung cancer and other health problems caused by a smoking habit she began in the 1940s. In her lawsuit, Rose v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., she alleged that the cigarette makers’ failure to sell only low-tar, low-nicotine products amounted to negligence. Rose said she briefly tried two low-tar brands, but found the taste unappealing.

According to the site, on March 18, 2005, in a case presided over by Acting Supreme Court Justice Karen S. Smith, a Manhattan jury handed down a $3.4 million compensatory award, to be split evenly against Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson. Rose also received a $17.1 punitive damages award against Philip Morris. The tobacco companies asked Judge Smith to overturn the jury’s decision, but she refused.

Last Thursday, the Appellate Division reversed her decision and granted the dismissal the tobacco companies requested. The majority opinion, written by Justice David S. Friedman, noted that New York law does not allow a manufacturer to be held liable for declining to “adopt an alternative product design that has not been shown to retain the ‘inherent usefulness’ the product offers when manufactured according to the more risky (but otherwise lawful) design that was actually used.”

Rose’s lawyers maintained that her lawsuit had satisfied this burden by showing that it was technically feasible to manufacture light cigarettes. But the majority on the court held that Rose had failed to present evidence of “consumer acceptability” of light cigarettes, because supposedly, the majority of individuals smoke for the taste and psychological effects of tar and nicotine.

Let’s Blow Out Those Tobacco Tax Falsehoods

Megan Hannan and Stephanie Lash: Let’s blow out those tobacco tax falsehoods

Saturday, April 12, 2008 – Bangor Daily News

In order to keep smokers smoking and get young people addicted, the tobacco industry and its supporters will say almost anything to avoid an increase in the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. That’s because they know that the higher the price, the fewer kids start smoking and the more smokers quit or cut back. As a result, they resort to a series of well-worn myths based on faulty research and outright false claims that are designed to scare and intimidate — creating a smokescreen of economic woe to obscure the truth about improved health, lives saved, lower health costs, and ultimately a reduced financial burden on taxpayers and businesses. When the smoke lifts, the reality is that raising the price of tobacco products is both sound health policy and prudent economic policy.

The tobacco industry has started this year’s drumbeat of misinformation by stating that cigarette tax revenue is not a predictable source of income. Maine’s experience over the past 10 years proves that cigarette tax revenue follows a consistent and predictable pattern of steep increases after a tax hike, followed by gradual and consistent declines (of approximately 1 percent per year). Compare this to Maine’s corporate income tax revenue. During the same period, corporate income tax revenue fluctuated from $107 million to $77 million to $184 million. Cigarette tax revenue is clearly the more reliable revenue stream.

The cross-border myth is another industry favorite. The story goes that Maine smokers will flock to New Hampshire to buy their cigarettes when prices in Maine go up. The reality is that when Maine raises its cigarette tax, New Hampshire sales don’t respond. In fact, after each of Maine’s last four tax increases, New Hampshire cigarette sales per capita were lower than they had been the previous year.

Another myth is that Internet cigarette sales are growing rapidly and will only get worse with a tax increase. The truth is that less than 2 percent of Maine smokers buy their cigarettes over the Internet, and Maine’s law regulating Internet sales ensures that tax avoidance and under age sales are minimized. Most Maine residents are law-abiding citizens and this myth is both unsubstantiated and unjust.

Opponents of a tax increase also claim that the cigarette tax is regressive and that it disproportionately hurts low-income smokers. In fact, low-income people are the hardest hit by the effects of tobacco use and are specifically targeted by tobacco industry promotions. Smokers of all incomes who quit or cut back save money on both cigarettes and health care costs (a pack a day smoker who quits saves about $1,700 a year). Over 70 percent of smokers want to quit, and for some, raising the price of cigarettes may be what they need to be successful.

Those who profit from cigarettes also claim that raising the tax will hurt retailers who sell cigarettes. No data are offered to support these claims, and it is certainly difficult to have sympathy for those who put profits over health, especially the health of children and the poor. Nonetheless, logic would suggest that smokers who quit or cut back would have more money to spend on other things.

Perhaps the biggest myth is that a cigarette tax is just another tax that adds to our overall tax burden. The reality is quite the opposite. A cigarette tax actually saves money for taxpayers and businesses, not to mention the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors. A $1 per pack increase would motivate 6,000 adults to quit, keep 10,000 kids from becoming addicted smokers, save 4,700 lives, and reduce health costs by $233 million. Healthier people are more productive workers, and getting Maine’s health costs under control is one of the most important things we can do to help businesses thrive.

It’s time to cut through the myths and smokescreens and see tobacco taxes for what they are: a powerful economic tool that supports businesses, taxpayers and (Maine) families by reducing the death and disease of tobacco addiction.

Megan Hannan is director of government relations and advocacy for the American Cancer Society, New England Division. Dr. Stephanie Lash is a physician in Bangor.

Lax Tobacco Tax Remains Unattended

Written by ADRIAN WAN CHUN-HO – Thursday, 10 April 2008 00:00

Although many had voiced support for the idea of raising the tobacco tax, the government thinks education is a better way of cutting smoking, and so left the tax unchanged in the Budget.

Some experts believe that a rise in tobacco tax can highly reduce youth smoking, yet the government is still leaving the current law unattended.

Secretary for Finance John Tsang Chun-wah announced in the Budget on February 27 that “education is more important than a tax increase when considering stamping out the smoking habit in Hong Kong”.

Anti-tobacco campaigners such as Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention (YSP), Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) and Clear the Air, however, believed that a tobacco tax increase would be very effective.

Chief Executive of YSP Li Cheong-lung said that he was disappointed at the government for not taking his committee’s demand of doubling the tax into account in the Budget.

“Since 2005, we have been urging the government to lift the duty to reduce underage smoking,” he said, “when the price of cigarettes goes up, many teenagers smoke less or quit altogether.”

If such an increase were introduced, the tax payable on a pack of 20 cigarettes would be raised from about $16 to $32.

James Middleton, a member of Clear the Air, a volunteer group committed to combat air pollution in Hong Kong, said a ten per cent increase in tobacco tax can reduce youth smoking by seven per cent and overall smoking by four per cent.

“Tobacco tax is proven worldwide the most effective way of preventing and reducing smoking. It is the most feared available preventative measure by the tobacco companies,” he said.

The World Bank (WB) and World Health Organisation (WHO) both advocate population-wide prevention of chronic diseases.

Tobacco use is alongside other detrimental factors like improper diet, inadequate physical activity and excessive alcohol consumption, which cause chronic diseases, according to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty for tobacco control.

“The government is obliged under FCTC rules to regularly increase tobacco tax,” Mr Middleton said.

The WB has issued guidelines on appropriate tax level. They admonish high-income regions, like Hong Kong, to impose a 65 to 80 per cent tax on each cigarette.

In Hong Kong, the retail price of a pack of cigarettes is $32, of which $16.08 is tax. Tax per cigarette is thus tad higher than 50 per cent.

A regular smoker, said that if the tobacco tax were doubled, it would undoubtedly affect his accustomed smoking pattern.

If a pack of cigarettes cost as much as $48, I don’t think I could afford a pack a day. It would be a luxury, he said.

Albert Kwan Yui-leung, 19, a regular smoker, said that if the tobacco tax were doubled, it would undoubtedly affect his accustomed smoking pattern.

“If a pack of cigarettes cost as much as $48, I don’t think I could afford a pack a day. It would be a luxury,” he said.

Mr John Tsang said in the Budget: “We need to take a more balanced approach. We already have a high tax there, if we raised it at this time, it would increase smuggling.”

Mr Middleton from Clear the Air argued that, “He [John Tsang] is pandering to the business lobby and playing with peoples’ lives in doing so.”

Concerned groups such as YSP, COSH and Clear the Air said the current tobacco tax in the city is relatively low compared with New York and Britain where the tax on a packet of cigarettes is $28 and $62 respectively.

Mr Li from YSP commented, “The government can say whatever it justifies. I should say, however, that every time the tobacco tax was increased in the recent 20 years, the number of smokers fell.”

Tsang’s comment in the Budget may call into question the government’s confidence in guarding against smuggling.

C. K. Ng, Senior Inspector from the Customs and Excise Department, said reassuringly that “Tobacco smuggling in Hong Kong has been subsiding.”

According to Mr Ng, the quantity of each illicit shipments has shrunk from 200 cases (two million sticks) several years ago to around 100 cases (one million sticks) in the recent two years; a steady rise in revenue collected from tobacco suggested the shift of consumption from illicit to legitimate cigarettes; and illicit cigarettes are usually sold by means of telephone orders instead of blatant touting in streets.

Asked to comment on the enforcement against smuggling tobacco, Ng said, “The current enforcement against illicit cigarettes is deemed effective. However, when there are any signs of rampant smuggling, we [the Excise and Customs Department] would consider stricter measures.”

Mr John Tsang said in the Budget: “”If all the children and the adults of Hong Kong can learn all the bad things about smoking, I think that would be a more permanent way of reducing smoking. We could raise the tax further. But there are other things we can do better.”

Dr Barry Tam, Head of Tobacco Control Office (TCO), elucidated how his team plans to educate the public through various means.

He said there would be promotion of the harmful effect of smoking and second-hand smoke, smoke cessation and smoke free environment through media publicity, community involvement programmes, interactive education theatre programmes, youth tobacco control advocate training programmes and outreaching school-based health talks.

“1,324 people a year die of passive smoking in Hong Kong; 50 per cent of smokers will be killed by their addiction,” Mr Middleton said.

Dr Tam said the Department of Health (DH) would also strengthen publicity such as TV and radio announcements or public interest (APIs) in order to enhance public support so as to help building a smoke-free environment in Hong Kong.

Tobacco facts

* Tobacco causes around 13,500 deaths per day.
* Half of children are exposed to tobacco smoke at home.
* 47.5% of males smoke.
* 10.3% of females smoke.
* A cigarette is the only legally available consumer product that kills through normal use.

Source: WHO