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December, 2009:

Arrests double for trading in illicit cigarettes

The number of people arrested over illegal cigarette activities has nearly doubled since the tobacco tax was increased by 50 per cent in February – the youngest a boy of 11 and the oldest a 95-year-old man.

Chow Chi-kwong, head of customs’ revenue and general investigation bureau, said illegal traders tried to use children to smuggle cigarettes to lower the risk of being detected.

He said the 11-year-old boy was used by his mother to carry a paper bag containing 820 duty-not-paid cigarettes as they crossed from the mainland to Hong Kong in Sha Tau Kok. The boy was released after investigations found he was innocent but his mother was prosecuted for possessing dutiable cigarettes.

Another youngster arrested was a 15-year-old recruited to make deliveries on phone orders for illicit cigarettes, Chow said. He was among 57 people arrested between March and November for involvement in offering illicit cigarettes phone order services. A total of 290,000 cigarettes were seized.

The 95-year-old man was caught selling contraband cigarettes in Kwai Chung in March. He was among a growing number of elderly people selling illicit cigarettes to other old people and their friends on public-housing estates and in parks and cooked-food areas.

Officers said elderly peddlers generally sold a single pack of illicit cigarettes rather than a whole carton and could make HK$2 or HK$3 a pack. “The profit is not big, but a little money is enough for them,” Chow said.

Officers said they might obtain the cigarettes by buying them duty-free when returning from the mainland. Chow said customs would step up patrols to stop the trade. He warned that buyers and sellers faced a maximum penalty of a HK$1 million fine and two months’ jail.

The Customs and Excise Department recorded a 91 per cent rise in the number of arrests between March and November – to 1,794 from 935 in the same period last year.

Cases of cigarette smuggling, distribution, storage and selling rose by 87 per cent to 2,301 between March and November compared with 1,229 in the same period last year.

But seizures of illicit cigarettes dropped by 25 per cent from 63 million between March and November last year to 47 million during the same period this year.

Customs attributed the increase in the number of arrests and cases to stringent enforcement action.

Explaining the drop in seizures of contraband cigarettes, Chow said: “I believe the [cigarette] syndicates also notice our enforcement action. They lower their storage to cut losses. Before the increase in tobacco tax, we could seize more than two million sticks of illicit cigarettes in a single major case. After April, we seize fewer than a million sticks in a case.”

Customs’ figures show the number of taxed cigarettes sold in the city dropped by 26 per cent to 14.84 million between March and November from 20.11 million in the same period last year.

Last month, the newly formed Tobacco Control Concern Group, comprising cigarette makers and retailers, said the 50 per cent increase in tobacco tax had failed to reduce the number of smokers and had instead promoted an increase in sales of illicit cigarettes.

Chow said the situation was under control after stronger enforcement measures were introduced in March.

“It is an endless war and we still have to fight,” he said, adding that customs would spare no effort in combating such illegal activities and would closely monitor the situation.

He urged people to report such activity on customs’ 24-hour hotline, 2545 6182.

Meanwhile, the number of travellers who were ordered to pay penalties after being caught bringing duty-not-paid cigarettes into the city without declaration at control points rose by 71 per cent this year after the 50 per cent increase in tobacco tax.

The department recorded 4,421 such cases between March and November, compared with 2,584 cases in the same period last year.


Source: SCMP, Clifford Lo

DNA of tobacco damage laid bare

THE damage that cigarettes and sunlight wreak on human DNA has been laid bare for the first time, along with the valiant, if eventually futile, effort of cells to repair the harm done.

Scientists have worked out the entire genetic code of two of the most deadly types of cancers – lung and melanoma – revealing the tens of thousands of mutations present in these tumours.

The research, regarded as a pivotal point in the search for new treatments for cancer, reveals a typical smoker would acquire one mutation, on average, for every 15 cigarettes smoked. More than 23,000 mutations were found in the lung cancer cells of a 55-year-old man, most of them caused by the cocktail of chemicals in cigarettes, the British-led team said.

Melanoma cells from a 43-year-old man were found to be ravaged by more than 33,000 mutations.

Mike Stratton, of the Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, said that the research provided an unprecedented view of the genetic impact of smoking and exposure to ultraviolet light.

”We have been able to explore deep into the past of each tumour, uncovering with remarkable clarity the imprints of these environmental mutagens on DNA, which occurred years before the tumour became apparent.”

The ”desperate” attempts by the genome to defend itself against these attacks were also obvious, Professor Stratton said. ”Our cells fight back furiously to repair the damage, but frequently lose that fight.”

The mutations identified in the studies, which were published in the journal Nature, ranged from changes in single letters in the DNA code to missing sequences or rearrangement of hundreds of thousands of letters.

Tracking down mutations responsible for driving the cancer’s development was the next challenge, the researchers said, as it enabled the development of drugs to target the cancer.

Smoking deaths blow out insurance premiums

A major new survey of Australian insurance policies shows tobacco’s massive toll in deaths, disability and disease – and on insurance premiums and payouts.

The study just released by the Investment and Financial Services Association and KPMG Actuaries, based on over 8 million lives insured and 16,000 claims totalling more than $2b, shows:

· Females smokers are almost two and a half times as likely (248%) as non-smoking females to be the subject of life insurance claims;

· Males who smoke are 75% more likely to be a subject of death claims than non-smoking males;

· Trauma cover claims are 41% more likely from smoking than non-smoking, and 25% more likely from smoking than non-smoking females.

Commenting on the survey findings, Associate Professor Matthew Peters, Chairman of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Australia , said:

“We’re all going to die, but smokers are dying much earlier.

“This is not a function of old age – the mortality and disability disparity between smokers and non-smokers is seen at all ages but the gap widens dramatically even from the age of 30.

“This survey shows that even though women smoke less than men, far more female smokers are dying early than male smokers.

“This confirms the urgency of action by the Australian government to implement the recommendations of the Preventative Health Taskforce, including raising tobacco tax, boosting quit campaigns and ending all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Adds ASH Chief Executive Anne Jones: “We welcome the news that the insurance industry will now take extra steps to better inform smokers about the benefits of quitting – including paying lower premiums.

“These results no doubt underestimate the full tobacco toll – because poorer people have higher smoking rates but are less likely to be insured.”

Hong Kong Customs Department missed 280 forty foot containers of cigarettes?

Clear the Air says: Worldwide the Tobacco industry spews the same mantra when their Armgeddon, tax increases, are used effectively.

In Hong Kong a spurious group of self interest serving tobacco peddlars claimed without a shred of evidence, that 49.9% of cigarette sales in Hong Kong were smuggled – that means Hong Kong Customs Department, one of the most efficient in the world, ‘missed’ 280 forty foot containers of cigarettes in the last year.

The tobacco lobby deliberately tries to mix the illicit act of smuggling , run by organised crime groups as a by product of their Armageddon. Tax increases are a health measure, tobacco smuggling is organised crime. The tobacco companies’ own words on the UCSF Legacy depository show that the main source of the smuggled goods is ‘Duty Not Paid’ or ‘General Cargo’ which is tobacco company speak for smuggled tobacco and the source is the hypocritical tobacco companies themselves – as admitted and proven.

If you want to see the news about United Kingdom Government’ failure to reverse last year;s tobacco and alcohol duty hike, please hit the jump.


Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification training programme will be offered in Hong Kong

To curb the smoking epidemic, the World Health Organization advocates a multi-pronged approach. Offering help to quit tobacco use is one component of effective public health measures. In order to train up professionals with quality and ability to provide treatment for tobacco dependence, the Department of Health (DH) of Hong Kong SAR Government, in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic of USA and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (TWGHs) of Hong Kong SAR, is organizing a Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification training programme in Hong Kong.

If you are interested in the program, please download the document here.

Bhutan: Tobacco control bill endorsed

Tobacco control bill endorsed - South Asian News Agency
December 7, 2009

Under the watchful gaze of the giant Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru
Rinpoche thongdroel, the National Assembly yesterday endorsed the Tobacco
Control Bill of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
The endorsing of the bill, with amendments, assumed a special significance
at the hall, considering that Zhabdrung endorsed the first tobacco control
in the 17th century. Even before that, Guru Rinpoche, in his teachings,
said that tobacco grew from the blood of a demoness, personified as a
menstruating woman, who had wished for an intoxicant that would obstruct
spiritual practice.
Friday, the 21st century democratic Bhutan's members of parliament,
respecting individual rights, didn't completely ban smoking or chewing
tobacco, but ensured that tobacco is scarce, non-users are protected and
violators penalised accordingly.
No Bhutanese can sell or even buy tobacco, says the bill. Any Bhutanese
"selling or buying tobacco" in any form will be fined as specified by the
yet to be established tobacco control board from time to time and serve
imprisonment term equivalent to the fine imposed if unable to pay it.
Non-smokers will be protected by law from inhaling second hand smoke. This
will be done by strictly banning smoking in public places, like commercial
and recreation centres, institutions, public gatherings/spaces and public
transportation. A smoker violating the rule will be fined from time to time
or, failing to pay the fine, detained. A person responsible for letting
someone smoke in a public place will also be penalised.
However, respecting individual rights, the tobacco board will draft rules
and regulations and specify a permissible limit of tobacco to be imported.
The word 'quota' will be removed from the bill after members debated that,
by providing quota, every smoker will import, which was as good as lifting
the ban.
Bhutanese found smuggling tobacco shall be guilty of smuggling and shall be
penalised as per the penal code. Film makers, who use scenes depicting
tobacco use, including smoking, for domestic production of video, movies
and cultural shows would be booked for petty misdemeanour and penalised as
per the penal code, says the bill.
The Bill, however, will be sent to the National Council, which earlier
amended it and lifted the ban on the sale of tobacco and tobacco products.
If the council does not agree with the Assembly's amendments, the bill will
be put to the joint legislative committee of the two houses. A joint
sitting would be needed to pass the bill, if the joint committee fails to
resolve differences.
The health minister, Lyonpo Zanglay Dukpa, said that the bill was drafted
after consultation with many relevant agencies. "The tobacco legislation
should be made practical, user-friendly. It should be strict to deter
people from getting into the illegal business, while not being too harsh to
infringe on rights," said the minister. He said that tobacco-related
diseases are fast picking up and are a pressure on the health system.
Source: South Asian News Agency
Category: Legislation & Politics
Date: 7 December 2009

An open letter to the Financial Secretary to increase tobacco excise tax

Cigarette tax is very effective on redusing smokers number.

Cigarette tax is very effective on redusing smokers number.

The School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, and Clear the Air urge the Financial Secretary of the HKSAR government to progressively and consistently raise tobacco excise tax for

public health protection in Hong Kong, especially to protect the present and future health of children from heart, lung and many other serious diseases.
Tobacco costs Hong Kong 7000 lives and $5.3 billion per year. Any responsible government should protect the people’s health and wealth by reducing cigarette use through comprehensive tobacco control including higher tobacco tax. Moreover, Hong Kong is obliged to do so under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which China is a signatory. The 50% rise in tobacco duty in February 2009,
though long overdue, was a welcome start but it needs to be boosted annually.

In a letter to the LEGCO Panel on Health Services on 17 November 2009, Clear the Air Anti-tobacco Committee chairman Mr. James Middleton compared the Euro retail price of 1000 cigarettes between Hong Kong and other high income cities:
Hong Kong €159, Vienna €180, Melbourne €203, Copenhagen €214, Helsinki €220, Frankfurt €235, Paris €265, Singapore €265, New York €300, London €369, Dublin €423. In other words, cigarette price in Hong Kong is only 60%, 53% and 43% of that in Singapore, New York and London, respectively.

Professor AJ Hedley, Chair Professor of School of Public Health stressed that: “Tax now constitutes 66% of the retail price of cigarettes in Hong Kong, but this tax incidence is only at the lower end of the range of countries where tobacco consumption has fallen. Every 10% hike in price will suppress cigarette use by 4%, with stronger effects among young people. It is widely accepted that this brings enormous public health benefits. For every two nicotine addictions prevented, one life is saved. An expectation of annual escalation in cigarette price may further encourage smokers to make an advance decision to quit”.

Professor Lam Tai-hing, Director of School of Public Health added that: “Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death, and tax level has a major impact on consumption and hence tobacco deaths. Now that this powerful fiscal tool that could save thousands of lives is at the disposal of the Financial Secretary, he must act decisively to protect public health and specially the present and future health of children. To catch up with the retail price of cigarettes in Singapore, New York and London in 5 years, our tobacco tax must increase annually by at least 11%, 14% and 18%, respectively”

The Chinese version of the open letter.