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Education Key To Stamping Out Smoking – February 29, 2008

FS: Proposals Based On Wide Consultation

Financial Secretary John Tsang answered wide-ranging questions from a talk-show audience this morning, days after he presented his maiden Budget in the Legislative Council. He stressed that the Budget proposals came about after a four-month public consultation process.

“We went around, listened to all the political groups, to all the community groups, went down to town hall meetings a few times, go to people’s homes, talk to people, and so forth. We have indeed seen a lot of people, listened to their views, didn’t say very much, but we were listening and we got a lot of input and we have constructed our budget based on what they have told us,” he told listeners.

The end result, Mr Tsang said, is a “quite balanced” Budget. While some parties have agreed, he has also heard criticisms that it does not go far enough for some sectors. He promises to take all comments into consideration – but is unlikely to make any changes to the document.

“If we move something, we have to move other things, otherwise it’s going to be skewed. So I don’t have a great tendency towards changing any one of the different aspects. This is a basket,” he said.

Responding to a comment that the Budget did not do enough for senior citizens, the Financial Secretary countered that they were a main focus.

“I have paid a lot of care to the elderly. There must be over a dozen paragraphs just on the initiatives for the elderly, from elderly academies to care services to old age allowance, maintenance of self-occupied properties, home environment and so forth. So we have given a lot of consideration to them.”

When another caller suggested there were not enough initiatives aimed at protecting our environment, Mr Tsang noted that in the next year the Environment Bureau had a “record-breaking” budget of $7 billion.

“We have never had that much money put in environment. We are putting more and more money into it,” he said.

Education Key To Stamping Out Smoking

Asked why the Budget did not propose raising the tobacco tax, the Financial Secretary noted that tax is only one way to reduce the smoking habit in Hong Kong – and that he thought education is a lot more important.

“If all the young children and the adults of Hong Kong can learn all the bad things about smoking, I think that would be a more permanent way of reducing the smoking,” he said.

“We need to take a more balanced approach. We already have a high tax there, if we raised it at this time, it would increase the smuggling. We need to look at all different aspects. Tax is just one aspect. It is now about 80 cents per cigarette. We could raise it further. But there are other things we can do better.”

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