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November, 2013:

GovHK press release: Customs seizes 3.3 million sticks of illicit cigarettes in operation against smuggling and retailing activities

Press release from the Hong Kong government:

Hong Kong Customs mounted a one-week special operation to combat cross-boundary smuggling of illicit cigarettes and distribution of cigarettes throughout the territory. In the operation, a cross-boundary vehicle used for conveying illicit cigarettes was seized and six illicit cigarette storage points were smashed. About 3.3 million sticks of illicit cigarettes were seized. The total market value was about $8.1 million with a duty potential of about $5.6 million. Three men and three women aged between 41 and 58 were arrested.

Illicit cigarettes seized in a cross-boundary vehicle. (


Neil H. Cruz: “Cheap cigarettes from China flooding PH”

Neil H. Cruz, a writer known for his anti-policy, opinionated (and sometimes wacky) columns for the Philippine Inquirer, expresses somewhat naively his concerns about the high tobacco tax policy in the Philippines:

The government raised the excise tax on cigarettes to increase tax collection and, allegedly, to force smokers to quit or at least smoke less. With the price of cigarettes sky-high because of the higher taxes, the government reasoned out, smokers would either smoke less or quit smoking completely, thus saving themselves from the ravages of lung cancer, emphysema and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), all of which can be fatal.

The high tax regime has been in force since January. Has it forced smokers to quit? No. Has it pushed street prices of cigarettes high enough to make smokers quit? No. Has the government been able to collect more taxes? Still no.

Worse, what Filipinos are smoking now is much more harmful to their health than what they used to smoke. What happened?


BMJ joins top medical journals in shunning misinformation propagated by tobacco-funded research

The British Medical Journal has announced that they “will no longer consider for publication any study that is partly or wholly funded by the tobacco industry. Our new policy is consistent with those of other journals including PLoS Medicine, PLoS One, PLoS Biology; Journal of Health Psychology; journals published by the American Thoracic Society; and BMJ’s own Tobacco Control.”

Misinformation is dangerous. Spreading false news and beliefs has always been common, and studies in methodologies of critical thinking and judgment has advanced rather drastically to train minds in discerning proper, credible works from the ranks of unreliable and biased writings.

Where techniques in security advance, techniques in breaking security will always be haunting, breaking a step or two ahead. Likewise with knowledge, even as critical thinking has improved, there will be charlatans taking advantage of weaknesses in methods of thought; posing the credibility of academic studies, they write convincing pieces of studies that are either worthless or, worse, intended to mislead readers into false believes and judgments.

The latter is what is happening with tobacco-funded ‘research’. Commissioned by research foundations created by tobacco firms and writing in the format of academic journals, tobacco-funded studies throw readers off-guard by using very analytical and scientifically-toned writing to ‘prove’ theories such as ‘No definite link between menthol flavours and youth smoking’ or ‘High tariffs linked to increased smuggling, which in turn funds criminal activity’. And in unfortunate moments, media agencies and journals sometimes get taken in and publish these writings to lend their reports a flavour of ‘balance’, adding false weight to the credibility of these writings and making it even harder for readers to make proper judgments on the truth of the matter.

The ban that BMJ and other medical journals impose on such tobacco-funded research is thus by no means ‘shutting out’ different opinions. Rather, the editorial boards are now much more aware of the ‘knowledge trap’ that such articles present; that by publishing such work alongside real scientific research, they unintentionally help tobacco fronts set such traps for their readers.

Click here to read the full post from the BMJ Group:

SCMP letters: Tobacco tax hike deters young people from starting to smoke

by Lisa Lau, chairman, COSH

A recent report funded by the tobacco industry claimed that the illicit cigarette problem in Hong Kong is serious.

A spokesperson for the study said the key drivers included tobacco tax rises in 2009 and 2011 and strength of enforcement against smuggling by the government. Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) has expressed reservations on its findings and believes there is no causal link between tobacco tax rise and the surge in illegal cigarettes.

The tobacco industry always opposes increases in tobacco levies arguing that they intensify cigarette smuggling activities, but there is no evidence to support this. In fact, smuggling is also found in countries with a lower tobacco tax, like Malaysia (tax accounts for 53.7 per cent of the retail price) and Vietnam (41.59 per cent). Canada and Sweden attempted to combat cigarette smuggling in the 1990s by reducing tobacco tax, resulting in a hike of consumption and contraband cigarettes seizure.

The World Health Organisation believes the most effective measure against smuggling is tight control and aggressive enforcement. Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department is determined to undertake stringent enforcement against illicit cigarette activities. A total of 65 million sticks of illicit cigarettes were seized in the first nine months of this year, an increase of over 30 per cent compared to the same period last year. The most effective way to tackle the root of the problem is to strengthen law enforcement and publicity and educate the public on the illegitimacy of illicit cigarettes.

A significant tobacco tax hike deters young people from starting smoking and encourages smokers to quit. The World Bank claims every 10 per cent increase in the price of a packet of cigarettes results in a 4 per cent decrease in tobacco consumption in high-income regions like Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s tobacco levy accounts for only 65 to 68 per cent of the retail price, which is below the standard suggested by the WHO (at least 70 per cent). Compared to Asia-Pacific countries like Singapore, and EU countries, whose tax is over 70 per cent, Hong Kong’s rate is lenient*.

Each year, smoking causes nearly 7,000 deaths in Hong Kong, including 1,324 non-smokers, as well as HK$5.3 billion economic loss.

To save lives, we want the government to implement a progressive and long-term tobacco tax increment policy and strengthen smoking cessation services.

28 Oct 2013

*A standard pack of Marlboro retails including tax for HKD50 in Hong Kong; in Singapore it costs HKD 76, London HKD 84, in New York HKD 85, Dublin HKD 93, Brisbane HKD 129; Hong Kong still has the highest cost of living among these cities, making tobacco a relatively affordable commodity in the city.

Raise the Smoking Age to 21

New York City’s higher tobacco sales age should be copied across the country.

The Obama administration is facing a health care deadline. I’m not referring to the White House’s self-imposed target date to unsuck I mean that the administration has until summer 2014 to advise Congress of the health benefits of raising the age of tobacco sales from 18 years old to 21. In the meantime, there’s a mini-movement afoot in several municipalities to tighten restrictions. It’s clear that raising the smoking age would have massive health benefits. Congress should consolidate this momentum into a nationwide regulation that lifts the minimum sales age to 21.

New York City offers the highest-profile example of a city’s legislative efforts to stop young people from getting hooked on tobacco. Last month the City Council approved legislation that raised the minimum legal sales age from 18 to 21. It will take effect six months after garnering a mayoral signature. There’s a similar bill before the Washington, D.C.’s council, and Hawaii and New Jersey are expected to soon consider statewide legislation.

The authors of both the New York City and Washington, D.C., bills specifically cite the success of Needham, Mass., as a source of inspiration. The Boston suburb enacted a regulation in 2005 barring anyone under 21 from buying tobacco products. Since then, the adult smoking rate in Needham has been shown to be fully 56 percent lower than the overall rate in Massachusetts, according to recent findings by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In part, local officials attribute the lower smoking rate and its corollary health benefits—lower mortality rates and fewer hospitalizations due to lung cancer—to the decision to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 21.

Every day in America, about 4,000 people under 18 smoke their first cigarette, and 1,000 go on to become daily cigarette smokers. Most adolescents who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes have reported that they’d like to quit but can’t. So perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the most persuasive arguments for raising the minimum sales age came from a high schooler.

Prompted by an essay contest about how to change the world, then-17-year-old Jessica Adelson argued for increasing the age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21. In 2007, the teenage Adelson appeared before the state legislature in her home state of Connecticut. “By increasing the age, we can stop many young people from getting their hands on cigarettes,” she told lawmakers. According to the AP, Adelson further testified that “Younger teens typically know a lot more 18-year-olds than 21-year-olds who might buy them cigarettes.” Adelson’s argument is borne out by the authors of a recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, who write that people aged 18–20 are responsible for 90 percent of the cigarettes purchased on behalf of minors. Cut them off, and the benefits would extend down to much younger teens.

But the 18–20 set does more than just supply cigarettes to underage smokers. According to a mix of firm statistics, anecdata, and a damning confession by a Big Tobacco official, this age group also gets addicted to nicotine in big numbers. “A significant number do in fact start between 18 and 21,” John Banzhaf, the executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, told CNN in 2002. Among 18-to-25-year-olds, the average age of first use is 18.9 years old, according to cardiologist Mehmet Oz.

On the retail side, one New York City vendor told a local CBS affiliate that half of his cigarette sales go to people between the ages of 18 and 21. But perhaps the most damning line (and maybe the obvious causal explanation) comes from a 1982 internal memo penned by an employee of the tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds: “If a man has never smoked by age 18, the odds are three-to-one he never will. By age 24, the odds are twenty-to-one.” To put it another way, in the words of Patrick Reynolds, the grandson of R.J. Reynolds who would spurn the family trade to become an anti-smoking advocate, “Once they reach 21, it’s no longer an interesting vehicle for rebellion.”

It’s tempting to point to the Needham, Mass., statistics and other data as ironclad proof that raising the age of tobacco sales across America would lead to a national health bonanza. While the findings represent a promising first step in substantiating such a proposition, the empirical data lack the depth and breadth necessary to overcome the backlash from Big Tobacco that a national push would provoke. This is where the White House could make itself useful by exploring the health benefits of a higher tobacco sales age—especially considering the Obama administration is required by law to do exactly this.

In 2009, when Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which allowed the FDA to regulate certain aspects of tobacco sales, advertising and use, lawmakers also gave the administration a June 2014 deadline. “The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall … convene an expert panel to conduct a study on the public health implications of raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products; and … not … later than 5 years after the date of enactment of this Act, submit a report to the Congress on the results of such study.” But according to Chris Bostic, the deputy director of policy at Action on Smoking and Health, the administration has yet to convene the expert panel mandated under the 2009 statute. Astonishingly, an 899-page report published by the Department of Health and Human Services three years after the law’s passage fails to even mention the Needham, Mass., statistics that have catalyzed New York City and the nation’s capital to act, and sheds no light on the correlation between a higher tobacco sales age and improved health, as Congress requested. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they wait until the last minute,” Bostic told me.

The Obama administration has no excuse for dragging its feet over the past four and a half years, particularly after the president trumpeted the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act as a vehicle to protect American youth. It’s hard to imagine the Obama administration could do anything besides adding momentum to this growing municipal movement if it simply followed its congressional mandate to explore the nexus between higher tobacco sales ages and health benefits. Given that Congress has already demonstrated its ability to persuade states to set the age of alcohol sales at 21, and that it’s capable of producing a similar scheme for tobacco sales, the main obstruction to a nationwide movement with political traction should not be federal government inertia.

CP: Saskatchewan government’s lawsuit against tobacco companies can proceed

Tobacco companies, gunning for their best business interests, do their best to ignore the health problems caused by the consumption of their products. Now, however, governments look to make them take responsibility: in Canada, state governments press for tobacco companies to pay for healthcare for diseases caused by their products.

from the Canadian Press:

A Saskatchewan judge has ruled the provincial government’s lawsuit against tobacco companies can proceed.

The province is suing ten tobacco companies, trying to recoup health care costs from diseases related to the sale and use of their products.

Six of the companies filed an application to dismiss the suit against them, saying that because they’re foreign companies the court has no jurisdiction over them.

According to court documents, the companies were trying to argue that there was only a tenuous connection between them and their alleged activities in Saskatchewan.

The companies also argued any decision would be unenforceable in foreign jurisdictions.

But on Oct. 1, a Court of Queen’s Bench judge dismissed the application, citing similar lawsuits in B.C., New Brunswick and Ontario.

Judge rules lawsuit filed by Saskatchewan government against tobacco companies to recoup costs for health care costs can proceed. (Canadian Press/Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

Tobacco companies were sued for similar reasons in those provinces and tried to dismiss the suits for jurisdictional reasons, but in all three cases judges denied the applications.

The six companies – B.A.T Industries, British American Tobacco, British American Tobacco Investments Ltd., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco International Inc., and Carreras Rothmans Ltd. – have already filed a leave to appeal this latest decision.

17 Oct 2013

AFP/SCMP: Death of French director prompts smoking controversy

from AFP (Paris)/SCMP:

When one of a country’s most brilliant artists has just died, is it appropriate for a government minister to point out that the heavy smoker succumbed to lung cancer?

That was the question exercising France yesterday as the country mourned the loss to the disease of acclaimed director Patrice Chereau at the age of 68. His best-known films were La Reine Margot and Intimacy.

Patrice Chereau died after "long illness", French media said

Michele Delaunay, the minister for the elderly, sparked the debate after the announcement of Chereau’s death due to what most French media described as a “long illness”.

Delaunay, in contrast, tweeted: “Chereau dead as a result of lung cancer: is it not time for cigarettes to be locked away in a cabinet for poison and sold only in pharmacies.”

The comment immediately triggered accusations on social media of the government health police exploiting a high-profile death for their own ends.

The furore forced the minister to respond, which she did by pointing out that she was speaking out as a qualified doctor. “I can no longer bear people dying because of tobacco,” she wrote. “It is immensely sad to see, once again, a talented man struck down by a legal weapon.”

9 Oct 2013

ASH News and Events Bulletin – 16-31 October 2013

ASH News and Events Bulletin – 16-31 October 2013

Tobacco News
Australia’s ‘plain packaging’ stubs out cigarette branding, prompting backlash
Opinion: Communication is a determinant of public health
Opinion: Menthol cigarettes: Stub out these seductive smokes
Opinion: Tobacco companies are savvy about the power of branding
Reducing tobacco consumption among low-income smokers
Scotland set to go it alone with standard packs for cigarettes
Should advertising for e-cigarettes be more tightly regulated?
Should we raise the legal age for buying cigarettes?
The benefits of Stoptober
UK medical journals will no longer consider research funded by tobacco industry
USA: Getting schooled on tobacco
What’s smoking doing to your body?
Parliamentary News
Debate: Tobacco Products Directive
Parliamentary question: E-cigarettes
Parliamentary question: E-cigarette
Parliamentary question: Smoking trends
Parliamentary question: Smoking: Young People
Parliamentary question: Passive Smoking: Children
Jane Ellison: All hands on deck
Industry Watch
Price hikes offset sliding sales at cigarette maker Philip Morris
BAT apologises for advertising e-cigarette in kids’ app
Japan Tobacco International posts revenue growth despite volume dip
US cigarette industry registered a 4% drop in sales through 2012
Are tobacco stocks no longer bulletproof?
Nicolites ‘kicks butt’ with sales campaign
Recent Research
New statistic model forecasts effect of tobacco consumption on childhood asthma
Novel delivery systems for NRT
Perceptions of users of plain and branded cigarette packs
Smoking might influence pain tolerance


E-Cigarette Summit: Science, Regulation and Public Health
Going Local: Tobacco control in the new public health landscape
Sex, Drugs and Roll ups: Risky behaviour and public health
Reducing Smoking Prevalence through Tobacco Control and Smoking Cessation Conference
SmokeFree Sports Research Seminar
Smoking Cessation: Protecting the Health of the Nation


Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products

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Comments on the Philip Morris-funded London Economics report “An analysis of smoking prevalence in Australia, Final”

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