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February 16th, 2016:

Hong Kong must sustain the war on tobacco even as smoking rates continue to decline

Government should press on with the expansion of no-smoking areas and legislation to enlarge health-warning signs on cigarette packets

Every time the budget comes around so too does the question of raising the tax on tobacco, to deter a community and self-harming habit. So it is a good time to cite recent statistics on the dwindling number who remain addicted. A survey shows the percentage of Hongkongers over 15 who smoke has edged closer to a single digit. Another links a large fall in child hospital admissions for respiratory infections to indoor smoking bans.

Health authorities attribute the decline in smokers to effective tobacco control measures. Along with education and greater awareness, that is no doubt true. This means the anti-smoking lobby will be looking to the financial secretary to raise the tax on cigarettes again, after rises of 50 per cent in 2009, 41.5 per cent in 2011 and 20 cents a cigarette in 2014. The tax on a packet of cigarettes is now 69 per cent.

The percentage of the population who smoke daily fell from 11.8 in 2009 to 10.5 last year, according to a survey of 10,000 households by the Centre for Health Protection. Such a modest decrease may sound unconvincing, but the remaining smokers include a hard core of addicts who will only decline by attrition. Of more importance are potential future addicts, or people aged 15 to 19, among whom the percentage of smokers fell from 2 per cent to 1.1 per cent last year. The aim should be to get it even lower. There is also a need to target female smokers, the percentage of whom rose from 3.1 to 3.2. Experts regard tobacco tax as one of the most effective means to reduce the smoking rate.

A new health argument is to be found in a University of Hong Kong study showing hospital admissions of people under 18 with serious lower respiratory tract infections fell by 47.4 per cent in the first year after smoking bans were extended to all indoor areas of restaurants, workplaces and public venues in 2007, followed by a sustained reduction of 13.9 per cent in the following five years.

The government should press on with the expansion of no-smoking areas, such as bus exchanges, and legislation to enlarge health-warning signs on cigarette packets.
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La. lawmakers propose increasing cigarette tax by 22 cents a pack

BATON ROUGE — Seven bills raising taxes on Louisiana tobacco products are before the House Ways and Means Committee.

If any of them are approved, it would be the second tobacco tax hike in as many years.

The bills break down this way:

— Three bills would increase the state tax on cigarettes from 86 cents to $1.08 a pack as proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The 22-cent increase would raise about $81 million a year and would take effect April 1. The measures are House Bill 3 by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe; HB 14 by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans; and HB 15 by Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches.

— Cox filed three other tobacco-related bills. HB 10 and 26 reduce state payments to tobacco wholesalers and vendors for collecting the tobacco tax and sending the money to the state. The bills would reduce the state payments from 6 percent of the taxes collected to 3 percent. HB 12 repeals any discount to licensed tobacco transactions. HB 18 by Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, reduces the discount to 5 percent.

Edwards has called the state Legislature into a special session to impose spending cuts or new taxes to close an estimated $850 million to $940 million budget gap for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The session started Monday and will end March 9.

Dealing with a fiscal crisis last year, the state increased the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack.

As of last month, the state’s 86-cent-per-pack tax ranked it 36th among the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

The 22-cent increase now proposed would push Louisiana to 32nd in the national ranking. The average state tobacco tax is $1.53 a pack. In addition, the federal government imposes a sales tax of $1.01 cents per pack.

A coalition of health advocacy groups called Invest in a Healthy Louisiana is lobbying for a $1.25-cent-per-pack increase, saying it will go much farther at dissuading people from smoking.

“Tobacco tax increases are one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids,” the group says in a campaign statement.

It claims a $1.25-per-pack increase would prevent 15,900 premature deaths caused by smoking, prevent 22,800 children from becoming smokers and save the state millions of dollars in Medicaid costs associated with smoking-related illnesses.

Members of the Invest in a Healthy Louisiana campaign include the American Heart and Lung associations, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living and Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs.