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A Letter to the HK Customs and Excise Department – Anti Tobacco Smuggling Division

writing1Last updated: April 30, 2010

Dear Mr Hui,

Since 70% of Hong Kong seizures last year were genuine cigarette products (40% above the world norm)  it is high time Hong Kong like the EU has punitive fines placed on the manufacturers whose products are seized in Hong Kong – this will immediately deter smuggling by the tobacco companies. Alongside this move tobacco company directors should be charged with conspiracy to commit this smuggling crime, conspiracy to defraud, and for local excise tax evasion.

It is ridiculous for Customs Department to continue to allocate more manpower chasing the smugglers when the fear of going to jail will immediately stop these top end tobacco people from propagating the smuggling.

Kind regards.

James Middleton

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lost face with core supporters by giving in to opponents of climate-change legislation. He has won some of it back by taking on Big Tobacco in an unprecedented anti-smoking initiative that will end up in the courts. Australia is to become the first country to ban logos and branding on cigarettes, in line with World Health Organisation guidelines. From 2012 they will have to be sold in plain, standardised packets carrying large, graphic warnings against smoking, with the brand name in small print.

An emissions trading scheme is now off the agenda until 2012 at least. Instead Rudd will campaign for re-election this year on badly needed health reforms. A fight with Big Tobacco fits that strategy. After all, smoking-related diseases kill 15,000 Australians each year and cost more than A$30 billion (HK$215 billion) in health care and lost productivity. To underline that point, the government also raised cigarette taxes from today by 25 per cent, or about A$2 a packet, to directly fund health care.

The tobacco industry vowed a legal challenge to the proposed legislation to defend intellectual property rights. Retailers said the tax rise would hit profits, penalise people who had made legitimate lifestyle choices and encourage a black market in cigarettes.

The latter argument has a familiar ring about it. It prevailed when our government decided not to raise the tobacco tax in the last budget – admittedly after having raised it by a punitive 50 per cent the year before. But health experts and anti-smoking activists still say that, short of banning smoking as a hazardous addictive habit, progressively raising taxes is the most effective deterrent. That is just common sense, whatever the findings of a survey by the Food and Health Bureau on the effect on smoking rates of last year’s tax rise.

Cigarettes remain relatively cheap in Hong Kong. The government is bound to continue raising the tax in the long run as a responsible public health measure. But concerns about smuggling and its effects on retailers’ profits are no excuse for dragging its feet. They are a reason for effective measures against smuggling.

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