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June 5th, 2015:

Australian spending on tobacco goes up in smoke

SYDNEY, June 5 Australian spending on tobacco has tumbled to its lowest since at least 1959, a clear sign that ever rising taxes and laws forcing plain packaging on cigarette companies are pushing people off the habit.

When adjusted for inflation, just A$3.1 billion ($2.3 billion) was spent on tobacco products in the March quarter. That amounts to less than A$132 for every Australian, slim pickings in a country where a packet costs upwards of A$22.

Spending was down 10 percent on the same quarter last year and a long way from smoking heyday’s of the 1980s when Australians routinely spent more than A$7 billion a quarter.

Even going back to 1959, when the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures on household spending started, the country used to fork out over A$5 billion a quarter on tobacco.

The decline in tobacco use has clearly gathered pace since Australia became the first country in the world to force manufacturers to strip all branding from cigarette packets, most of which are now sold over the counter from blank fronted cabinets.

Since the law went into effect in late 2012, spending has dropped 16 percent in real terms.

Indeed, the law might be proving so effective that the government is steadily losing one of its most reliable sources of tax revenue, at a time when budget deficits loom for years to come. The tax rate on tobacco is about 60 percent. (Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Hong Kong Customs detects suspected smuggling case of illicit cigarettes

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Hong Kong Customs yesterday (June 4) mounted a special operation at Lok Ma Chau Control Point to combat organised cigarette smuggling activities. About 1.1 million sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes with a market value of about $3.1 million and duty potential of about $2.2 million were seized. A 52-year-old male driver was arrested and the vehicle used for conveying the suspected illicit cigarettes was detained.

Customs officers yesterday intercepted an incoming container truck declared to be empty at Lok Ma Chau Control Point.

After X-ray examination and thorough inspection by Customs officers, about 1.1 million sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes in 83 carton boxes were found inside a false compartment of the container. The cigarettes were sorted and packed according to orders placed with a view to quick delivery to buyers.

A Customs spokesman said today (June 5), “The operation showed the effectiveness of the enforcement strategy, especially the escalated enforcement actions against smuggling activities at source. Customs will continue to carry out stringent enforcement action against all illicit cigarette activities.”

Under the Import and Export Ordinance, smuggling is a serious offence.

The maximum penalty is a fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years.

Members of the public are urged to report any suspected illicit cigarette activities to the Customs hotline at 2545 6182.