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July 8th, 2011:

FRCA signs agreement with British American Tobacco Fiji

8 July 2011

To address the growing issue of illicit trade of tobacco products, the Fiji Revenue Customs Authority has signed and launched an operations agreement with British American Tobacco Fiji.

FRCA Chief Executive Officer Jitoko Tikolevu said the sale and use of illegal tobacco which is smuggled, counterfeit or tax evaded continues to rise and presents a large problem for customs and border control authorities.

Tikolevu said it also presents a challenge to government in respect of the loss to government revenue and the threat to the local legitimate tobacco industry.

He said FRCA will be working closely with British American Tobacco Fiji to further strengthen border management and internal control capabilities and procedures.

Story by: Sofaia Koroitanoa

Plain punch call in smokes fight

Hong Kong Standard – 8 July 2011

The SAR has won top marks for its anti-tobacco strategy in the latest World Health Organization global report, released last night.

But it still has to lead the way in Asia for plain cigarette packaging to reduce tobacco use and cut its “deadly toll,” the UN health agency said.

Hong Kong was a pioneer in graphic health warnings, which were introduced in 2006 – a year after the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was ratified by more than 170 nations.

The third WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic or MPOWER3 – a report card on how countries implement the convention – was released in Montevideo, Uruguay.

MPOWER refers to six measures: “Monitor tobacco use, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to quit tobacco use, warn about the dangers of tobacco, enforce bans on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes.”

WHO Tobacco Free Initiative director Douglas Bettcher said that, since the last report in 2009, “the big picture is unchanged.”

“Having killed 100 million people during the 20th century, the [tobacco] epidemic could kill up to 1 billion during the 21st,” he said.

Statistics for Hong Kong are issued together with those for China, as the territory is not a UN member-state.

But the WHO Western Pacific Region said data show that Hong Kong has the lowest prevalence rates for smoking in the region.

Its male smoking prevalence of 20.8 percent compares favorably for instance to the mainland, where the figure is 52.9 percent.

With tobacco duty hikes, the cost of cigarettes has increased to HK$50, which is comparable to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

In the Western Pacific, the only places that carry graphic health warnings on packets are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mongolia and Singapore.

Regional director Shin Young-soo said: “People have a fundamental right to information about the harm that tobacco does. And countries have an obligation to provide it.”

Asia and the Pacific have more than 480 million smokers and the “world’s fastest growth of smoking uptake among women.”

The agency called on Hong Kong to implement plain packaging, ban point-of-sale advertising, extend smoking bans to alfresco dining, roadside public transport stops and building entrances, and continue to hike prices and taxes.

Hong Kong-based doctor Judith Mackay, senior adviser to the World Lung Foundation/ Bloomberg Initiative, said the territory “has not done badly overall.”

“Since 2009 we have had two significant tax increases, the tidying up of the smoke-free ban … and a ban on duty free cigarettes, plus far more assistance with quitting,” she said. “This is about as good as any place has done.”

New ads focus on smoking hazards

South China Morning Post – 8 July 2011

TV campaign will be in line with belief of leading anti-tobacco advocates that it’s time tohammer home health risks, after a decade of more subtlety

After a decade pushing a more subtle anti-smoking message, Hong Kong needs to hammer home the health risks of tobacco, campaigners say.

Leading anti-tobacco advocates believe smokers may have become blase about health warnings, and say it is time to refresh memories.

In line with this approach, the government’s Tobacco Control Office will roll out new television advertisements next year focusing on the hazards.

The change of tack comes as the World Health Organisation announced its latest report on tobacco control last night in Uruguay.

This year’s report focuses on anti-tobacco media campaigns. It was revealed that just one-third of the world’s population, or 23 countries, had a nationwide media campaign in the past two years.

Hong Kong-based Professor Judith Mackay, World Lung Foundation senior adviser, said the city was not doing badly. “I think we have done quite well with a balanced spread between legislation, taxation, cessation and informational campaigns,” she said.

Hong Kong’s anti-tobacco campaigns have come a long way. The city is one of the few places in the world to have had health messages planted in television soap operas. In 2009, the tobacco office sponsored episodes of the popular TVB (SEHK: 0511) sitcom Off Pedder. In one episode, main characters urged a colleague to quit the habit and told him where to seek help. No-smoking signs were prominent in the show.

This year, the office will roll out an iPhone app to help smokers quit.

Publicity campaigns in recent years emphasised cessation services. From 2000 to 2006, when the city was debating the indoor smoking ban, the focus was on the harm of passive smoking. In 1995 and 1996, television adverts showed the health risks.

Lisa Lau Man-man, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, said the campaigns developed naturally as the city went through different stages of tobacco control. “Early commercials focused on personal health with stern warnings,” she said. “Now they are more supportive for the increasing number of smokers wanting to quit.”

But she said future campaigns might need to revisit the health warnings. “Smokers are starting to take the health risk messages for granted,” she said. “There is a need to keep reminding them.”

Dr Anne Chee, acting senior medical officer at the tobacco office, agreed. “People have already forgotten about the health hazards of smoking,” she said. “We will launch a TV campaign next year reminding people of that.”

Hongkongers are among 739 million people in 31 countries who enjoy smoke-free indoors. Residents are also among 1 billion people in 19 countries who have cigarette packs with graphic health warnings.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.

Tobacco will kill nearly six million people this year, including 600,000 who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Judith Mackay

Dr Judith Mackay’s wish list for HKG

Judith Mackay, 2011 WHO Senior Advisor  World Lung Association Senior Advisor

  1. Sound and planned tobacco tax policy: We are all utterly exhausted year by year having to fight for tobacco tax rises. Let’s get a 10 year plan, or at least a 5 year plan for yearly increases, which also takes inflation into account. Cigarettes here are considerably (28%) cheaper than in Singapore and we need a much more robust tax policy.
  2. Smuggling and counterfeit: Many (7% of all genuine contraband seizures in 2009 and 2010) “duty free” cigarettes are finding their way into the marketplace, so Customs and Excise need to exercise much stricter controls over the sale of Duty Free, independent of the franchised retailers. 60-65% of all contraband seizures in 2009 and 2010 were GENUINE tobacco products. The manufacturers need to be compelled to control their supply chains. It is openly known that this business is propagated by the tobacco companies. They are evading taxation and conspiring to commit criminal offences – use the OSCO laws against them.
  3. Beef up dealing with the criminality of smuggling with mandatory minimum sentences, treating it as a serious crime that is addicting and subsequently killing our youth.(OSCO Ordinance)
  4. Make all public areas tobacco free, including outdoor areas of restaurant and pubs whether roofed, 50% enclosed or otherwise.  Put onus on licencees to enforce ban or face first a single warning, and then second, lose the premises’ licence for at least 2 years (like alcohol sales to minors).
  5. TCO office: Increase staffing for enforcement of smoke-free areas. It is woefully understaffed compared with Macau, for example.  Macau has 70 officers for 514,000 population whereas HKG has only 99 for 7.2 million. The TCO need to be able to patrol areas as a preventative measure rather than the present where they only act several days later and based on written or telephone complaints.
  6. Packaging: Change the pictorial packet warnings every 1-2 years; we are overdue a change in the pictorial health warnings and, again, it should be in the ordinance that these are changed regularly, as smokers tune out after a while.
  7. Packaging:  Introduce plain packaging (as Australia has done) within the next 3 years.
  8. Ban counter display in shops: and move to under the counter. ALL retailers whether shop or news stand must be LICENSED and licensing enforced.
  9. Increase quitting facilities and assistance and make these free to anyone who wants to quit. These premises must be open before and after normal work hours and in accessible locations transport wise.
  10. Investigate tobacco industry funding and connections of a) political parties – currently not required to divulge funding sources and b) Libertarian front organisations that have sprung up recently in HK, especially those with charitable status.  Revoke the charity status of such front organisations as they are being used to benefit Big Tobacco rather than beneficial to the public of Hong Kong.