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Battle over tobacco tax rise nears its peak

South China Morning Post – 13 June 2011

City would become world laughing stock if tax increase is blocked, health advocates warn

Hong Kong risks becoming an international laughing stock if lawmakers vote down the government’s proposed tobacco tax increase this week, the Council on Smoking and Health warned yesterday.

Legislators will vote on Wednesday whether to approve a 41.5 per cent increase in the tobacco tax that was announced in the budget four months ago. The tobacco industry and health groups have been lobbying lawmakers on both sides of the debate, and they are planning rallies.

The Civic Party and the Democratic Party will support the tax increase, but the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, the Federation of Trade Unions and Liberal Party are expected to oppose it or abstain.

Lisa Lau Man-man, chairwoman of the Council on Smoking and Health, said that since the tax had already been raised, voting it down would make cigarettes “suddenly much cheaper”. “Hong Kong would become an international laughing stock, as we would be sending the wrong message to smokers – that it is OK for them to continue the lethal habit,” she said.

Lau said lawmakers should vote according to the public’s wishes: 70 per cent of Hongkongers support the tax increase, and the vast majority of residents are non-smokers exposed to the threat of second-hand smoke.

Health professionals are urging lawmakers to vote for the tax rise. “We especially urge medical sector legislator Dr Leung Ka-lau and other doctor-lawmakers to support the initiative,” Professor Lam Tai-hing, director of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, said.

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