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February, 2009:

Prevent Officials Accepting Cigarette Bribes

Lawmakers draft rules to prevent officials accepting cigarette ‘bribes’

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Feb 25, 2009

Mainland legislators are drafting bills to ban government officials from buying cigarettes using public funds or accepting them as gifts.

The legislators said tobacco consumption had led to an increase in rampant corruption, state media reported.

They were also likely to propose an increase in tobacco tax and a separation of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and large tobacco companies, Xinhua quoted mainland health activists as saying.

Analysts said if the bills were passed, it would be the first time on the mainland that accepting cigarettes would amount to taking bribes.

As part of the anti-smoking campaign which has gathered pace in recent months, the Ministry of Health’s National Tobacco Control Office and several non-governmental organisations have worked with deputies to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, who gather for their annual meetings next week.

Although Beijing signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a World Health Organisation treaty, in 2003, activists said it had made little effort to implement it or provide adequate support for tobacco controls.

This is not the first time that health activists and legislators have joined forces in pushing for tougher tobacco controls. A similar bill was proposed by an NPC deputy in 2007 calling for government attention to the health hazards of smoking and for a ban on using public funds to refund cigarette costs.

But Wu Yiqun, executive vice-director of the Research Centre for Health Development, said the bills proposed this year had made the most specific reference yet to the links between cigarette smoking and combating corruption.

“We have to make repeated efforts to push forward the difficult campaign which very much depends on the government policy,” Professor Wu said. “No one expects big breakthroughs through one single bill, but the bills this year have a better opportunity because of enormous public support for a healthy environment and anti-corruption attempts.”

The monopoly of the tobacco industry, and expensive cigarettes, were sources of huge waste and graft, the agency and campaigners said.

Zhou Jiugeng, a district housing chief in Nanjing, was sacked and placed under investigation last year after being found wearing a watch worth about 100,000 yuan (HK$113,580) and smoking cigarettes selling for 1,500 yuan a carton.

Anti-smoking activists say government funds for cigarettes in Jianli and Honghu counties in Hubei stand at as much as 10 million yuan a year.

The proposed bills would cover all government agencies, state-owned enterprises and the military. Officials who accepted cigarettes as gifts would be charged with taking bribes, and subject to criminal punishment.

Tobacco office director Yang Gonghuan told Xinhua there were over 300 million cigarette smokers in the country, with 1 million dying of tobacco-related illnesses such as lung and throat cancer and heart disease each year.

“It’s high time for NPC and CPPCC delegates to appeal to the government and the public to get involved in tobacco controls,” Dr Yang said.

High Tax Rise Will Not Work

Updated on Feb 25, 2009 – SCMP

I agree that increasing the tax on tobacco can curb youth smoking.

This claim has been made by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank.

However, I do wonder why the Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention has proposed exactly doubling the tax (“Call for doubling of tobacco tax to stop young lighting up”, February 18). Of course, if the increase in tax is too small, it will not act as an effective deterrent. Likewise, if it was too high an increase, it might be counter-productive.

High prices will undoubtedly discourage young people from buying cigarettes on which duty is paid. Instead, they might be tempted to buy cheaper, illegal cigarettes smuggled from the mainland. This will only help the triads, while poor cigarettes will only pose an ever greater health risk. More research is needed before deciding by how much to raise the tax.

Wong Pui-lam, Kwun Tong

Higher Tobacco Taxes Urged To Curb Disease

Ng Yuk-hang, SCMP – Feb 24, 2009

Governments around the world, including Hong Kong’s, should consider raising tobacco taxes in an effort to curb smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, according to a director of the World Health Organisation.

“Tobacco tax is controversial,” the WHO’s chronic diseases and health promotion director, Fiona Adshead, said. “But there is good evidence to show that the best way to reduce smoking is to raise taxes, so the cost of smoking becomes so high that people have to quit.”

According to customs statistics, a tobacco tax of 80 cents per cigarette levied in Hong Kong, unchanged since 2001, makes Hong Kong cigarettes among the cheapest in the developed economies. Last year a total of 3.79 billion cigarettes were consumed, 8 per cent more than in 2007.

Dr Adshead also said the government should provide more practical support in public hospitals for smokers who were trying to quit. But she said Hong Kong was a step ahead of many places trying to introduce smoking bans in public spaces.

“Hong Kong is taking impressive steps when compared to the rest of the world,” she said. “Processes in many countries are delayed because of differences in public opinion or for political reasons.”

She said the implementation of the final stage of Hong Kong’s smoking ban in July, which will prohibit smoking in bars, nightclubs and mahjong parlours, would “definitely strengthen the effort”.

Dr Adshead was in town for an anti-tobacco symposium and was given a city tour by health officials. She visited a “healthy city” competition in Tuen Mun, a primary school which provides healthy lunches and dined at a restaurant which had joined the “EatSmart” campaign.

She said the Department of Health had done a good job on health promotion, as reflected by its “social marketing” strategy – in which commercial principles were used to promote social issues so that health promotion became “fun and enjoyable”.

Dr Adshead said health promotion did not only yield health benefits but could also enhance child-parent relationships, as she had seen in the primary school she visited where parents joined their children for lunch.

Want To Quit Smoking? Study Shows Strength In Numbers

Staff Reporter, SCMP – Feb 23, 2009

Smoking is contagious, and so is quitting, according to a doctor.

Wilson Fung Yee-leung, a council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said a person stood a better chance of kicking the habit if he or she tried to do it with a spouse or friends.

At an anti-smoking forum organised by the association yesterday in West Kowloon, Dr Fung also urged doctors at public hospitals to consider prescribing the anti-smoking medication Varenicline as a smoking-cessation treatment because overseas studies had found the drug more effective than other remedies.

According to Department of Health statistics, the number of smokers has dropped from 14.4 per cent of Hongkongers in 2002-03 to 11.8 per cent in 2007-08.

Dr Fung said: “One can easily develop a habit if one’s friend has the habit. Smoking can be contagious. So is quitting smoking.”

Citing “The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network” report in last May’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Fung said one person stopping smoking seemed to have an effect on others.

The closer their relationship, the more influential the impact. For example, 67 per cent of smokers said they would try quitting if their spouses did, while 36 per cent said they would if their friends did, Dr Fung said, citing the Harvard University study of 12,000 people.

One smoker, surnamed Ip, who had been smoking for more than 20 years, said she had tried other means to quit, but failed. “I tried to quit with my boyfriend,” she said. “And I also took Varenicline. I was able to stop smoking very quickly.”

Rates Waivers, Tax Rebates To Be Unveiled, Modest Relief On Way, Says Source

Gary Cheung, SCMP – Feb 21, 2009

Modest relief measures, such as rates waivers for two quarters and tax rebates of HK$5,000-plus, are expected to be announced in Wednesday’s budget as the government opts to save cash for stormy times ahead.

A source familiar with the drafting of the budget said the administration was preparing for the worst-case scenario of a bad economy this year and next and expected to have a deficit for the next three years.

“Nobody can say whether the economy will recover next year and if we have to prepare for the worst,” the source said. “That’s why the government prefers keeping as much ammunition in its war chest as it can to cope with growing volatility in the next two years.”

The source said the government might grant fresh sweeteners to the needy after the summer if the economy continued to deteriorate.

Given the administration’s forecast of a gloomy economic outlook, the biggest sweetener to be announced by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah on Wednesday would be tax rebates of between HK$5,000 and HK$10,000, the source said. Mr Tsang was also expected to waive rates for property owners for two quarters, according to the source.

The amount of relief for taxpayers is expected to be substantially less than that handed out in last year’s giveaway budget.

In his maiden budget in February last year, Mr Tsang announced a rebate of 75 per cent of the tax payable for the 2007-08 financial year, capped at HK$25,000, and granted rates waivers for four quarters.

Job creation will be the top priority for his second budget, which will spell out the details of a one-year scheme to subsidise companies hiring university graduates as interns.

It is understood that 4,000 positions will be provided for students who complete university studies this summer and who did so last year, with the government paying a monthly HK$2,000 subsidy to local companies hiring graduates as interns to work in Hong Kong, and HK$3,000 for graduates hired to work on the mainland.

The administration will not set a minimum salary for the graduates hired as interns. But one source said firms in the scheme would have to pledge that they would not sack staff after hiring a graduate through the government subsidy.

Mr Tsang, who said this month that the government was likely to have a deficit of more than HK$7.5 billion for the next financial year, is expected to announce that it will face a deficit in the next three financial years, due to increased spending on infrastructure projects.

Senior officials are considering the possibility of issuing bonds to fund long-term investments and increase cash flow for the administration, following growing calls from economists.

The administration is also considering whether to raise tobacco duty to cut cigarette consumption, especially among young people.

Its figures show a 13.8 per cent rise in cigarette consumption since 2006 despite a smoking ban in restaurants. Tobacco duties in Hong Kong have remained unchanged since April 1, 2001.

Another source said Mr Tsang would not provide a further electricity charge subsidy, as many households were unlikely to use up the existing handout in the next financial year. In his previous budget he announced a HK$1,800 electricity subsidy for each household, with the administration crediting HK$300 to each domestic account for six months from September.

In July, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen granted a further HK$1,800 electricity subsidy to each household.

Higher Taxes And Horror Tactics Do Not Deter Student Smokers

SCMP – Feb 20, 2009

If action groups and the government want to make a difference regarding smoking in Hong Kong then they need to address it at the grass-roots level.

Most people start smoking in their teens, because it is seen as being rebellious and cool. The tradition in schools of showing biological “horror videos” simply does not work. This is because teenagers genuinely think they are invincible. It is the arrogance of youth – it will never happen to me. Instead, why doesn’t the government work with some psychologists and biologists to get across the age-old principle of the need to look and smell good? Go into schools with heavy smokers’ clothes or bottle a smoker’s breath and let teenagers smell how disgusting that is and then imagine what it would be like to kiss it.

Next is the “social crutch” factor of smokers in their 20s and 30s. People who go out a lot will not care about an increase in tobacco tax and whether they have to spend HK$30 or HK$40 on a packet of cigarettes. Why do they smoke? They feel naked without a cigarette in their hands. It is something to hold and smokers always congregate. As I said it is a social crutch. It would be worthwhile getting the message across to this group of people that their hangover feels a lot worse when they smoke. When you just have a hangover it can clear up pretty quickly. But if you smoke 40 cigarettes during an evening out your lungs and mouth have to deal with it for the whole of the next day. It definitely makes your hangover much worse.

The last target group would be the long-time smokers. In the present economic climate with jobs being lost, many people in this category can no longer afford to smoke but continue to do so, because of the stress they feel. Some of them might be influenced by an increase in tax once they realise that they are spending around HK$11,000 a year on cigarettes. However, with this group of smokers the most important thing to do is help them give up and make them realise that there are better ways of fighting stress than smoking.

Smoking action groups, university departments, and the government must work together to address the root causes of smoking, rather than raise taxes.

K. Russell, Happy Valley

Smoking at Young Age May Raise MS Risk

Study Shows Higher Risk of Multiple Sclerosis for Smokers Who Start Smoking Habit Early

By Bill Hendrick – WebMD Health News – Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 20, 2009 — Youngsters who start smoking before age 17 may be putting themselves at increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis, a new study suggests.

Researchers studied 87 patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who were among more than 30,000 people who took part in the 2002 National Health Interview Survey.

The people were divided into three groups: nonsmokers, early smokers who started before age 17, and late smokers who started at 17 or later.

The people who started smoking before age 17 were 2.7 times more likely than nonsmokers to develop multiple sclerosis, the researchers say.

People who started smoking at 17 or later did not show an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis compared to nonsmokers, according to the researchers.

About 32% of the MS patients were early smokers, compared to 19% of the people who didn’t develop the disease, the researchers say.

“Studies show that environmental factors play a prominent role in multiple sclerosis,” says study researcher Joseph Finkelstein, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Early smoking is an environmental factor that can be avoided.”

The study findings took into account sex, race, age, marital status, education, income level, and region.

The researchers say limited studies in the past also have suggested smoking as a risk factor for MS.

Their findings are to be presented April 25-May 2 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Seattle.

NEW REPORT: Deadly in Pink – Big Tobacco Lures Women and Girls

Provided by Clarissa Driban, Home Front Communications, America

“Purse Packs” Depict Smoking as Feminine and Fashionable

A new report sheds light on the most aggressive efforts by the tobacco industry to target women and girls in over a decade and reveals what Big Tobacco doesn’t want consumers to know. The tobacco industry has a long history of developing cigarette brands and marketing campaigns aimed at women and girls, with devastating consequences for women’s health. Recently, Philip Morris gave a makeover to its Virginia Slims brand with its new “purse packs” and R.J. Reynolds launched a new version of its Camel cigarette, called Camel No. 9—packaged in a shiny black box with hot pink and teal borders. These new marketing campaigns depict cigarette smoking as feminine and fashionable to lure a new generation of girls into a lifetime of smoking.

The new marketing campaigns and the long-term impact of smoking on women’s health are detailed in a new report “Deadly in Pink – Big Tobacco Lures Women and Girls”. The report was released today by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and some of the nation’s most prominent health advocates, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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With more than 21.5 million women and girls smoking in the United States, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death among women. Cigarette smoking kills more than 170,000 women in the U.S. each year, and while lung cancer death rates are decreasing for men, rates have yet to decline among women. Pending legislation before Congress has the potential, however, to protect women and girls by cracking down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, prohibiting misleading cigarette descriptions such as “light, “low-tar” and “mild”, and requiring tobacco companies to disclose previously secret information about their products.

For more local (America) and national statistics please visit or for a copy of the report visit:

For more information or to request the full Bites and B-roll, contact Home Front Communications by responding to this email or by calling 877-544-8400.

Tougher Controls Sought On Smoking Activists Seek Graphic Images On Packets

Raymond Li, SCMP – Feb 18, 2009

Health activists have taken the anti-smoking fight to big tobacco companies with the launch of a campaign to force the firms to print graphic warnings on cigarette packets sold on the mainland.

The Ministry of Health’s National Tobacco Control Office launched an online campaign on Monday to solicit public support for tougher tobacco controls ahead of the annual gatherings of the nation’s legislators and top political advisers.

China signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a World Health Organisation treaty, in 2003 but only began implementing it last month after a grace period. Under the treaty, tobacco manufacturers and importers must state clearly and prominently on cigarette packets sold on the mainland the damage caused by smoking. The text and preferably graphic warnings should take up at least 30 per cent of the pack.

China was given an ash tray as an award at a WHO conference in South Africa last year, an apparent dressing down for the government’s inability to enforce smoking restrictions.

The mainland tobacco industry agreed to redesign packets from the beginning of this year under a new industry regulation introduced in April, but ignored WHO suggestions to include pictures in the warnings, an approach widely adopted by developed countries.

Xinhua quoted tobacco office director Yang Gonghuan as saying that of the 8.4 million people who died on the mainland each year, 12 per cent, or 1 million, died of tobacco-related illnesses such as lung and throat cancer, heart disease and, among newborns, sudden infant death syndrome.

“Smokers are becoming younger so this proportion will soar to one-third by 2050. That means about half of all male smokers will die of smoking-related diseases,” Dr Yang said.

Anti-smoking campaigners including Wu Yiqun, executive vice-director of the Research Centre for Health Development, said the shock value of graphic images – ranging from a skull and crossbones to a picture of yellowed teeth – made them an effective warning.

Professor Wu accused tobacco companies of double standards because some used different packaging for overseas markets. Packs of Shanghai Tobacco’s upmarket Zhonghua brand sold overseas carry a picture of a smoker’s ulcerated foot, he said.

Professor Wu said pushing the industry to minimise the harm of its products was like “demanding a tiger give up its pelt”. She was dismayed by the lack of commitment by the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.

She was also concerned about its dual role as both regulator and representative of the powerful tobacco companies – firms that often contributed large chunks of revenues to regional governments.

Writing in the Beijing-based Mirror newspaper, Capital University of Economics and Business associate professor Zhang Zhixin said the country had the incentive and financial capacity to cut the government’s financial dependence on the tobacco industry, but added: “The public has good reason to question the sincerity of the government towards tobacco control because the results of such efforts are so poor.”

Call For Doubling Of Tobacco Tax To Stop Young Lighting Up

Daniel Sin, SCMP – Feb 18, 2009

The tax on tobacco should be doubled to curb youth smoking, a community group says.

A study by Chinese University’s Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies released yesterday found that nine out of 10 parents thought urgent action was needed to curb youth Smoking, and almost 85 per cent of the parents said the problem was “serious” or “very serious”.

The Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention, a community group that commissioned the study, recommended the tobacco tax be increased by 100 per cent – from HK$804 per 1,000 sticks to HK$1,608.

Part of the revenue from the tax should be used to finance NGOs, schools and parent groups so they can organise activities to prevent young people from smoking.

Tik Chi-yuen, the committee’s chairman and vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, said that more and more young people had been seen smoking in public places, even outside school premises.

He said that doubling the tax on cigarettes had curbed youth smoking in many countries, and was recommended by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank.

The Council on Smoking and Health, a statutory organisation, carries out public education on the adverse health effects of smoking, but Mr Tik said its resources were already stretched thin on its anti-smoking campaign.

One per cent of the revenue from the increased tobacco tax could provide HK$30 million a year for mobilising the community to combat the problem, he said.

Kenny Tsui Kar-keung, a board member of the Federation of Parent Teacher Associations in the Kwun Tong District, said it was too easy for young people to buy cigarettes. He said the penalty for selling cigarettes to
young people should be raised.

The survey was carried out in November, and feedback from 1,003 parents was collected.

British American Tobacco was not available for comment.