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February 26th, 2009:

50pc Tobacco Duty Rise Brings Confusion

BUDGET 2009 – Ella Lee and Danny Mok – Feb 26, 2009 – SCMP

Confusion arose last night over cigarette retail prices, with two major tobacco agents taking the unusual step of not raising charges immediately after a 50 per cent increase in tobacco duty was announced in the budget.

Some retailers immediately raised prices, while others imposed a limit on the number of packs each customer could buy.

British American Tobacco Hong Kong and Hong Kong Tobacco did not raise charges yesterday, along with most 7-Eleven outlets and other vendors.

But most 7-Eleven stores allowed each customer to buy only two packs a time. Smokers were seen rushing for cigarettes at outlets of Circle K, which did not raise charges.

Most petrol stations did not increase their prices.

However, some vendors raised prices by HK$8 a pack after the budget.

The 50 per cent increase in duty was welcomed by anti-smoking activists. However, they were quick to warn that the measure should not lead to any “trade-off” with the tobacco industry.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah announced that the duty would be increased from about 80 HK cents per cigarette to HK$1.20, with immediate effect. The duty for cigars was increased from HK$1,035 per kg to HK$1,553. Tobacco duty was last raised in the 2001-02 financial year – from 76 cents to 80 cents a cigarette.

Executive secretary of the Tobacco Association of Hong Kong Raza Zulfiqar said the trade was disappointed with the “drastic increase” in tobacco duty, adding that it would only stimulate smuggling of cigarettes. He said individual tobacco companies would decide later on the new retail prices of their products.

A senior government source said the increase was not aimed at increasing revenue for the administration but at reducing the smoking population. There are about 754,800 smokers in Hong Kong, or 13.2 per cent of the population aged over 15. Fears had been raised about the increasing number of young and female smokers in Hong Kong, the source said.

Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said the measure could deter more young people from smoking.

Tobacco tax has been increased from HK$16 to HK$24 per pack of cigarettes, with retail prices of some popular brands expected to rise from about HK$29 to HK$37 a pack.

The anti-smoking group Clear the Air said the government must legislate for the excise tax to be not less than 80 per cent of final retail cost, to prevent tobacco companies reducing prices to offset the tax rise.

Anti-tobacco groups had been calling for the administration to increase tobacco duty after government figures showed a 13.8 per cent rise in cigarette consumption since 2006, despite a smoking ban in restaurants.

Anthony Hedley, a professor in community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, welcomed the move and said it plugged a big hole in tobacco control.

“Credits should go to the NGOs, the Department of Health and the Food and Health Bureau which have pushed for the increase,” he said.

Going Up In Smoke

Despite the perception that Hong Kong has made strides against smoking, activists and public health officials say the opposite is true

SCMP – TOBACCO – Raymond Ma – Feb 26, 2009

How did it all come to this? That is the typical response of anti-tobacco campaigners, when asked about their crusade to rid Hong Kong of a highly addictive but legal product that has been linked time and again to everything from obesity and diabetes to stroke and cancer.

Anthony Hedley, chair professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, has been campaigning for tougher anti-smoking laws since he arrived here 21 years ago. He believes that “we are losing an enormous amount of ground”.

“From a public health point of view, it’s very serious,” he said. “Hong Kong is beginning to stand out among economically developed nations as a place which is losing progress in terms of the gains which it made in advocacy and legislation, and it will eventually lose ground in terms of health protection.”

Such concerns are not without foundation. Research by the university has estimated that 7,000 Hongkongers die from active or passive smoking each year.

The total cost to the community, taking into account pain, suffering and lives lost, is put in excess of HK$70 billion per year. Smoking is considered one of the biggest health concerns in developed countries, right up there with high blood pressure, alcohol misuse and high cholesterol.

However, despite the tireless efforts of people such as Professor Hedley and a strong community of tobacco-control activists and public health officials, there is a growing consensus that the city is losing its war against cigarette consumption.

This may not be readily apparent to the average man or woman. According to figures from the Department of Health’s Tobacco Control Office, the percentage of Hongkongers who smoked daily has fallen from 14.9 per cent in 1993 to 11.8 per cent in 2007-08.

A cursory glance down a typical Hong Kong street may lead many to believe that fewer people are lighting up, compared with a decade ago. That is thanks, in part, to the smoking ban implemented in 2007 at all indoor public places that succeeded in ridding the city’s restaurants of cigarette smoke.

Hong Kong is also one of fewer than 20 countries or regions around the world where all cigarette packets feature graphic warning labels that convey on an emotive level the dangers of smoking.

Finally, the passing of a sweeping set of legislative amendments to the city’s smoking laws in 2006 generated substantial media interest. Yet, despite these measures, the anti-smoking lobby remains frustrated. Activists centre on how the city, once considered a trailblazer in the field of tobacco control, has been surpassed by more progressive jurisdictions.

Consider that, in the late 1990s, Hong Kong was seen as a model of tobacco-control policies following the passage in 1997 of sweeping reforms that virtually eliminated all but the smallest forms of tobacco advertising in the city. At the time, such a ban was not even in place in Britain, of which Hong Kong was still a part.

Fast forward a decade, and the situation is reversed. Four years after New York banned smoking from all enclosed workspaces, the so-called ban on smoking in “all” indoor public venues, implemented with much pomp and circumstance, was rife with extensions – for bars, bathhouses and mahjong parlours. Critics belittle the ban, and say it is continuing to fail in one of its chief aims: to protect catering and hospitality workers from second-hand smoke.

Against this backdrop, the reality – despite what some may perceive – is that the consumption of tobacco has risen steadily over the years. Latest Customs and Excise Department figures show that 3.79 billion cigarettes were sold last year, compared with 3.33 billion in 2006. In 2007, 3.49 billion cigarettes were consumed.

“Up until 1997, we were, arguably, the second best in Asia after Singapore, but after that, all the way up to 2007, we did almost absolutely nothing during that period,” said Judith Mackay, a senior policy adviser to the World Health Organisation.

“We did have legislation that went through and came into effect in 2007 which brought us a little bit more up to speed, but then we had all these ridiculous extensions,” she added, referring to the grace periods given to some businesses and the delaying of a ban on point of sale cigarette advertising until later this year.

“Both of those had extensions in the law and it made it less than perfect.”

But where Hong Kong really fell behind was in its failure to increase tobacco duty, despite the fact that it was widely considered to be the best measure to cut consumption, she said.

Before yesterday’s 50 per cent rise, the last time the government put up the duty was in 2001. In the 1990s, some of the highest tobacco tax increases were recorded.

Year after year, anti-smoking lobbyists called on the government to raise the tobacco duty, only to have their pleas ignored. Most recently, the publicly funded Council on Smoking and Health (Cosh) sent a petition, with around 4,000 signatures from people around the world, to Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah urging him to raise the tobacco duty.

Hong Kong is bound, under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – a global anti-smoking treaty which has been signed by Beijing – to implement tax or price measures.

Dr Mackay noted that even the mainland, the largest producer and consumer of cigarettes in the world, is considering using taxation to curb consumption. She said that Hong Kong had been “shockingly, critically and embarrassingly backwards” on raising the duty. “It’s really shameful.”

Aside from the bold step of a tobacco duty increase, Dr Mackay said that it was also important that the extensions, which will expire in June, be ended without further delay.

Furthermore, the government needed to hold out against putting smoking rooms in bars in Hong Kong, which had already spent HK$2.5 million of taxpayers’ money to study, she said.

While there has been some debate over the plan’s merits, putting a ventilated smoking room in every bar in Hong Kong was simply too expensive, and it would still fail to protect the health of the people who work at these places, Dr Mackay said.

“Somebody’s got to clean it, work in it, so it’s still not without risk.”

Finally, Hong Kong should consider plain packaging for cigarette packets, which would be a world first, and set prevalence targets, a measure not uncommon in other jurisdictions. Dr Mackay challenged the government to reduce smoking prevalence to 11 per cent for daily smokers by the end of 2010.

A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said the government agreed that taxation was one of the many effective measures to reduce smoking. He said the financial secretary considered all factors before making a decision. And he was adamant that the administration would make no exemptions in its planned implementation of the amendments to anti-smoking laws passed in 2006, including its plans to end the grace periods for bars and other places under the indoor smoking ban, and to eliminate point of sale advertising for cigarettes.

However, he said the government was still continuing its study on smoking rooms. No decision had yet been made, he said, and the government would report to the Legislative Council when it was ready.

At a conference on managing tobacco dependence, held by the Tobacco Control Office in Hong Kong last week, Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok acknowledged that, while Hong Kong had made progress in fighting smoking, more needed to be done. He made the comments shortly after the government unveiled an extension to its community-based smoking cessation programme, to include after-office hours and weekends.

Meanwhile, there have also been calls for the government to commit more resources to fighting smoking. James Middleton, the anti-tobacco committee chairman for lobby group Clear the Air, believes that the current resources allocated by the government to fight smoking are inadequate.

In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the government budgeted HK$47 million for the Tobacco Control Office to carry out its duties. The office employs 124 people, including 85 tobacco-control inspectors, to carry out enforcement, seven police officers, and various medical and clerical professionals. Meanwhile, each year, Cosh receives a dwindling subvention that stood at HK$11.3 million in the previous budget, down from HK$14.8 million in 2005-2006.

“The Tobacco Control Office has [85] inspectors to cover the whole of Hong Kong on two shifts. It’s totally inadequate. How can you do that?” Mr Middleton said.

Cigarette Stocks Gone in Puff of Smoke

Timothy Chui and Grace Tsoi – Hong Kong Standard – Thursday, February 26, 2009

Smokers eager for a pre-budget- priced nicotine hit cleared convenience stores across the territory of cigarettes yesterday.

News that the city’s tobacco tax was being increased by 50 percent – effective immediately – just before noon left stores short or sold out of cigarettes by early evening.

One store clerk said his shop was cleaned out of 2,700 packs, with buyers breaking brand loyalty to snap up all 40 or so brands on offer.

Street vendors also tried to make a killing by upping the price of pre- budget cigarettes before the 50 percent hike in tobacco duties announced by John Tsang took effect.

Tsang said tobacco duties would rise by HK$8 per pack, taking the total duty per pack to HK$24 from HK$16.

Last night Shau Kei Wan street hawkers were charging HK$37 a pack.

The duty hike will boost the goverment’s take from HK$3 billion to HK$3.8 billion a year, said a government source who put the number of smokers in the SAR at about 600,000.

He added that while progress had been made in making male smokers quit, younger female smokers were taking their place.

Professor Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control and senior policy adviser to the World Health Organization, called the budget’s only tax hike a “much- needed, overdue and timely increase.”

She said cigarettes were getting cheaper in real terms because tobacco duties had remained the same over the past eight years.

She added that every jurisdiction that increased tobacco duties saw declines in smoking rates, especially among the young.

Mackay said there was a 4 percent decrease in smoking rates for every 10 percent increase in tax, while a government source pegged the figure at 6.3 percent per 10 percent.

Anti-smoking group Clear The Air called for a doubling in manpower for the Tobacco Control Office, and said legislation should be passed to bind tobacco duties at no less than 80 percent of final retail costs to prevent tobacco companies from absorbing the hike.

A Japan Tobacco International spokeswoman does not see the number of smokers dropping after the tax hike. She pointed out that the average daily consumption during the early 1990s was steady despite a 200 percent tax hike in March 1991.

She warned higher taxes will lead to more cheap illegal cigarettes.

A Philip Morris Asia spokeswoman echoed the smuggling concerns.



爭氣行動聯同香港大學社會醫學系及 世界肺臟基金會的 Judith Mackay博士一直積極地游說衛生署,衛生事務委員會、食物及衛生局、立法會議員、財政司司長和本地傳媒,向他們強調香港政府的反吸烟措施嚴重不足並違反世界衛生組織烟草控制框架公約的要求。 自2001年起香港八年來從沒增加過烟草稅。

最近南華早報頭條報道在2008年合法的香烟銷售量比禁烟運動開始前(2006年)增加了13.8%。 上星期亞洲電視國際台的 ‘Inside Story’ 節目亦提到了爭氣行動、香港大學及世界肺臟基金會的有關工作。上述的策略,加上源源不絕向衛生福利及食物局局長、食物及衛生局及立法會議員提供世界各地最新的禁烟資料推動了特區政府在其禁烟政策上向前邁進一大步。我們希望此政策對中國大陸起到示範作用。另外,衛生福利及食物局局長週一岳和食物及衛生局已向特區政府力陳增加烟草稅是重要的公共健康措施。他們拒絕在此重要事項上讓步。




– 令成年烟民的數目明顯減少
– 令青少年烟民的數目明顯減少,從而防止青少年因受朋輩壓力去開始吸烟





禁烟範圍一定要擴展至機場和碼頭的出入口門外,餐廳、酒吧、建築物和寫字樓出入口20米範圍內。 另外,所有載有孩童的車輛以及全部的交通工具轉乘處(不論室外或室內) 都必須禁烟。



新的烟草稅預期能為政府在未來一個財政年度帶來46億港元收入。 可是,這預期收入仍然比政府現時花在與吸烟有關的疾病的醫療開支低8億港元。有關現象是不能容忍的,因為吸烟帶來的對健康的禍害是完全可以透過財政的手段來避免。我們特別要避免青少年開始吸烟以及二手烟引致的健康損害。




108. 另外,為了公眾健康,我建議即時把煙草稅稅率調高百分之五十。香煙的稅款會由每支約八角調整至約1元2角。我們亦會繼續加強推動戒煙及控煙的宣傳及執法工作。


與防止青少年吸烟委員會不一樣,爭氣行動、香港大學社會醫學系及 世界肺臟基金會及其成員均與烟草業沒有任何關連。如想進一步瞭解烟草公司資助這委員會的詳情,請瀏覽香港吸烟與健康委員會網頁:

爭氣行動是一個正式在香港註冊的志願組織, 致力改善香港的空氣質素。如需進一步的資料, 請聯繫:

Mr Michael Pieper, Communications Director Clear the Air Hong Kong

Professor Anthony Hedley , Department of Community Medicine University of Hong Kong

Professor Judith Mackay , World Lung Foundation