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Raise tobacco tax to be on par with other cities

SCMP, Lisa Lau, chairwoman, Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health

3rd Feb, 2010

In his 2009 budget speech a year ago, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah announced a 50 per cent increase in tobacco duty “with immediate effect”.

He said: “We will also continue to step up our efforts on smoking cessation, as well as publicity and enforcement in tobacco control.” But Mr Tsang’s determination is yet to be proved until we see a continuation of a tax increase policy in this year’s budget.

The tobacco tax was increased by 5 per cent in 2001, but there was no rise for the next seven years.

If we want to continue our efforts on tobacco control for public health, besides enforcement and publicity as well as cessation services, we need to see a regular tax increase policy in place.

Some people may argue that raising tobacco tax will only raise the sale price of cigarettes, which are already very expensive.

But is this the case? Hong Kong ranked the 29th most-expensive place among other world cities, while New York ranked 31st, in a recent cost-of-living survey by an international employment agency.

However, cigarettes remain cheaper in Hong Kong than in many of these countries.

Clear the Air anti-tobacco committee chairman James Middleton compared cigarette prices in Hong Kong with those in other high-income cities.

He found that cigarettes in Hong Kong were only 60 per cent of the price in Singapore, 53 per cent of the cost in New York, and 43 per cent of the price in London.

The government should now prove its determination, for the sake of public health and to protect our children.

Therefore, I urge people to support a regular tobacco tax increase policy of 15 per cent annually so that cigarette prices in Hong Kong are on a par with similar cities within five years.

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