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Tax has made no impact on teen smoking

SCMP, Jeff Leung, Quarry Bay

16th Feb, 2010

I wrote to these columns more than two years ago about an increased tax on tobacco.

I said that the only people who would benefit from such a policy would be criminals and that the problem of smuggling cigarettes from over the border would get worse.

I was rebuked by other correspondents who argued that raising the levy had been shown to be the most effective way in other countries to deal with the problem of teenagers smoking.

However, smuggling activities have increased and I believe the problem of youngsters smoking is getting worse.

I also raised concerns about the Tobacco Control Office and said that it should be given more teeth. I said that prompt enforcement action would act as a wake-up call and deterrent for the public. However, I still read reports about people suspected of breaking anti-smoking laws refusing to show their identity cards when asked to do so by tobacco control officers.

Some officers have complained about low morale because of a lack of training and sometimes having to deal with people who are agitated and drunk.

Some officers have resigned as they think there is a lack of respect on the part of the public. Also they do not feel their career prospects are good.

The government does not seem to think there is a problem. It should try to clamp down on cigarette smuggling and impose tougher penalties on smugglers and on those individuals who sell illegal cigarettes wholesale.

The duties and benefits that are offered to tobacco control officers should also be reviewed.

An effort should be made to persuade disillusioned officers to stay on.

This can help improve the situation in Hong Kong and enable us to deal with the problems I have described.

Finally, people who have behaved badly when these officers approached them should take a long, hard look at themselves and consider their behaviour.

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