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50pc Tax Hike Sought In Bid To Help Smokers Quit

Damon Pang – The Standard – Friday, February 22, 2008

An increase in tobacco tax of up to 50 percent in the upcoming budget speech on Wednesday will help smokers quit the habit, Council on Smoking and Health chairman Homer Tso Wei-kwok said yesterday.

Tso also criticized the government for “seriously lacking” in efforts to help youths aged 15 to 19 – when most smokers pick up the habit – quit.

The tax increment would mean 75 percent of the price for a packet of cigarettes – about HK$30 depending on brands – would be taxed, compared with about half the price now.

The World Health Organization recommends a standard tax of two- thirds of the price.

“Increasing the tax must also go along with increased provision of services to smokers to quit smoking, as it is also necessary to show that the government is not in it for the money, but for the protection of public health,” Tso said.

“Increasing the tax is only one method to control smoking, but most importantly [government policy] needs to be consistent.

“There are about 15,700 young smokers locally, yet we only have one youth quitline at Hong Kong University capable of helping 400 people.”

He said the service should be readily accessible, through community help channels, not hospitals. Quitting needed to become a popular trend like slimming.

In response, a Department of Health spokeswoman said the government had successfully decreased the smoking rate.

She said the percentage of smokers had fallen from 23 percent in 1982 to 14 percent in 2005 through “gradual and multiple means,” including legislation, tobacco taxation, public education and quit-smoking services.

Hong Kong University, meanwhile, surveyed 304 young smokers who phoned its quitline between August 2005 and last September.

Sophia Chan Sin-chee, head of the university’s nursing studies department, said young smokers aged between 15 and 19 went through fewer cigarettes per day after smoking was banned in public indoor places in January last year – from 12.2 before the ban to 10.1 after it took effect.

She said the ban marked a change in the general environment “where more important people around [the smokers] urge them to quit smoking, as more smokers themselves urge others to quit also.”

Chan said the survey also showed more smokers believed others want them to quit smoking after the start of the ban because 51.9 percent of those interviewed had greater motivation to quit.

Nearly two in five smokers said they received more encouragement to quit from key people around them after the ban, while 42.7 percent said they had less exposure to secondhand smoke.

Chan also said that, since the implementation of the ban, 214 smokers, up 20 percent from before the ban, called the youth quitline.

She added 19.2 percent of smokers said they wanted to quit because of pressure from family and friends.

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