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March 4th, 2015:

Smoking cessation attempts, cessation and reduced cigarette consumption

Is the use of electronic cigarettes while smoking associated with smoking cessation attempts, cessation and reduced cigarette consumption? A survey with a 1-year follow-up

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Tobacco industry peddling overestimates of illicit cigarettes to dampen tax increase

We refer to the article, “Did the tobacco industry inflate estimates of illicit cigarette consumption in Asia? An empirical analysis” Chen J, et al. published in Tobacco Control on November 25, 2014 (Tob Control 2015;0:1-7) and concur with the important points raised in this article. While the article focuses on Hong Kong, other countries in South East Asia also faced a similar experience. The authors revealed that the tobacco industry-funded study on the illicit trade of cigarettes in Asia, “Asia-11 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012″ by the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) and Oxford Economics (OE) inflated the extent of illicit consumption in Hong Kong by 133-337 percent. Similarly, other scholars have also questioned the methodology applied in this report. For example, Dr. Frank Chaloupka, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, criticized the reliability of the study’s estimates in using an inconsistent approach and the lack of details about the empty pack surveys, the main source of data for the estimates. In June 2014, the South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) released a critique of the “Asia-11 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012″ showing how its estimates are being used to rescind tobacco tax policies. As illustrated in Hong Kong’s experience, the SEATCA critique revealed that the ITIC-OE report overestimated the total illegal consumption in other countries in South East Asia. In the case of Vietnam, it claimed that in 2012 about 103.3 billion cigarettes consumed in Vietnam were illegal, which amounted to 19.4% of total cigarette consumption. The estimate was based primarily on the data of a tobacco industry group, the Vietnam Tobacco Association (VTA), and the full details of the methodology were not disclosed. The report admitted that data were collected only in urban areas, but it failed to mention that 68.3% of the Vietnamese population live in rural areas. This means that the findings are not representative of the Vietnamese population and are very likely biased since illicit cigarettes consumption is concentrated in big cities and near borders.

Unfortunately, as in Hong Kong, the glossy ITIC-OE study took its toll on tobacco tax policy in Vietnam. The Government of Vietnam considered the results of the study and opted for a less than ambitious tobacco tax rate increase. When the Ministry of Finance proposed a rather moderate tobacco tax roadmap in March 2014 (an increase from 65% to 75% in July 2015 and to 85% in January 2018), they noted that their decision was influenced by the illicit cigarette issue. The scope of illicit cigarettes consumption and the associated government revenue loss continued to be highlighted both in the press and during the policy debates until November 2014, when the National Assembly adopted an even weaker excise tax law: an increase to 70% in Jan 2016, and to 75% in 2019. Since these taxes are based on ex-factory price, and the tobacco industry is in full control of that price, the full impact on cigarette retail prices and tax revenue is likely to be minuscule. The average real retail cigarettes prices are expected to increase by less than 1% per year in the period from 2015 to 2020 (5.8% in 6 years), which, given the 5-6% annually per capita real income grows, is insufficient to prevent cigarette consumption from rising. In summary, the Asia-Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2012 report was as non- transparent in Hong Kong as it was in Vietnam and nine other countries covered by the report. It was used to undermine a pro-health tobacco tax policy supported both by public health advocates as well as the general public. We thank Tobacco Control for publishing the findings of Hong Kong colleagues, which successfully challenged the invalid evidence and arguments supported by the tobacco industry. We hope that other countries in Asia and elsewhere will follow Hong Kong’s initiative and expose the tobacco industry’s tactic to undermine pro-health tobacco tax policies that signatories to the WHO FCTC are committed to under Article 6 of the Convention.
Thank you
Sincerely, Son Dao , Hana Ross and Sophapan Ratanachena

Kick Butts and help raise youth tobacco awareness

SOUTH CAROLINA (WMBF) – Kicking Butts hits its 20 year mark and want to raise awareness amongst South Carolinians about the dangers of tobacco use on March 18, 2015.

Kick Butts is a national day of activism to allow youth the power to speak out and speak up against tobacco companies. The event allows everyone to help raise awareness of the problem with tobacco use, encourage youth to reject the use of tobacco, and urge officials to help protect kids from tobacco.

“Tobacco companies target teens to become their ‘replacement smokers’ and we as a society pay the price with tobacco-related illness and premature death,” SC Tobacco-Collaborative Executive Director Louis Eubank said. “The best way to prevent tobacco-related illness, suffering and death is to prevent youths from ever using tobacco.”

Help raise awareness amongst youth and other adults by promoting the social media campaign.

Other ways to protect youth from tobacco products is to not allow sales to minors and protect youth from secondhand smoke.

Ireland smokes big tobacco with plain packaging

Ireland has passed a law banning branding on tobacco packaging, making it the second country in the world after Australia to introduce plain packaging legislation.

The law must now be signed by the country’s President and is expected to take effect in 2017, reports Kadhim Shubber.

The move comes as the UK prepares for a vote on plain packaging regulations this month, with the measures expected to be introduced as early as May 2016.

James Reilly, Ireland’s Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who spearheaded the legislation, said:

Today is a very good day for the future health of our children. The interests of public health will be served when children decide never to take up smoking in the first place and if smokers are persuaded to quit.

Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco have threatened legal action against Ireland over the measures.

A furious row has erupted in Ireland over the role of legal firms and consultants that do work for tobacco companies, with Mr Reilly suggesting they should be barred from government contracts.

Most Americans support raising tobacco sales age to 21

(Reuters Health) – More than two thirds of U.S. adults, including a majority of smokers, support raising the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, according to a 2013 survey.

Many municipalities nationwide, including 30 communities in Massachusetts alone, the Big Island of Hawaii and New York City, have passed laws banning sales to people under age 21 in recent years. As of January, 2015, that includes 49 cities in seven states covering 11.5 million people, according to an author of the new study.

“Our surveys have found that the American public strongly supports tobacco policies such as those that restrict where people can smoke and that raise tobacco taxes, so we were not so much surprised to find that most adults overall supported raising the age of sale to 21, but were interested to find both the majority of smokers and of adults ages 18-20 supported raising the age of sale,” Dr. Robert C. McMillen told Reuters Health by email.

McMillen, of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Mississippi State University in Starkville, and his coauthors used the 2013 results from the annual Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, which included responses from more than 3,000 randomly selected adults representative of the national population.

Respondents chose a level of agreement with the statement “The age to buy tobacco should be raised to 21.” They also answered questions about their own current and former smoking status.

Slightly more than 70 percent of adults supported or strongly supported raising the tobacco purchasing age, including 57 percent of current smokers. Most people, regardless of smoking status, age, geographic location, race, sex or education level supported the statement, according to the results in Tobacco Control.

“While implemented tobacco control measures often are widely supported in the population, it is more unusual for initiatives in-the-making to be associated with support this high,” said Gunnar Sæbø, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research in Oslo who was not part of the new study.

More than 68 percent of white respondents supported the statement, as did 72 percent of Hispanic respondents and 80 percent of black respondents.

Among smokers, those who had started between age 18 and 20 were most likely to support raising the tobacco age. Only 14 people in the survey were identified as current smokers under age 21, and only one supported raising the legal smoking age.

The legal age to purchase tobacco is regulated by states, not at the federal level.

“Some states, such as New York and Massachusetts, allow municipalities to raise the age of sale, whereas other states preempt that capacity and the action would have to be at the state level,” McMillen said.

As this is a new initiative, there hasn’t been much research on how it may affect the number of eventual smokers in the U.S., said Diana Silver, associate professor of public health at the NYU Steinhart school in New York.

“However, given the evidence that many underage smokers get their cigarettes from friends or others, efforts to restrict access to those 21 and older may make it much more difficult for 16 and 17 year olds to find a regular source of cigarettes,” she told Reuters Health by email.

“There hasn’t been a lot of research about the rigor and depth of enforcement of these laws, and there needs to be,” said Silver, who was not involved in the study. “Without it, we can’t know what contribution these laws can make.”

Needham, Massachusetts raised the age of sale to 21 in 2005, and the resulting drop in teen smokers has been encouraging, McMillen said.

“Surveys of Boston suburbs conducted between 2006 and 2010 found that cigarette smoking by Needham High School students had dropped by more than half while the surrounding suburbs fell only slightly,” he said.