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Tobacco tax rise poised to pass

South China Morning Post — 14 June 2011

Health officials say they are cautiously optimistic the legislature will pass duty increase tomorrow, and at least 30 lawmakers are poised to approve it

Health officials are cautiously optimistic a 41 per cent rise in tobacco tax will be passed by the Legislative Council tomorrow, despite strong lobbying by the tobacco industry and pressure groups.

As the government and smokers’ groups made last-ditch efforts to lobby lawmakers, a count by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews)shows the measure has secured at least 30 votes, out of the maximum 59. For the bill to pass, it needs a simple majority; Legco president Tsang Yok-sing does not vote.

In the budget on February 23, the government raised tobacco duty by 50 HK cents a cigarette, with the retail price of a packet of cigarettes increasing, on average, to HK$50 from HK$39.

Senior health officials said yesterday they were confident the bill would be passed. “We understand the tobacco industry and interest groups are lobbying intensely, but we are cautiously optimistic,” one official said.

Anti-smoking activists and academics have warned that Hong Kong will suffer a serious blow to its public health efforts if the bill is voted down. But opposing groups say the sharp rise in the tax is pushing smokers to illegal cigarettes, and seriously affecting the livelihood of newspaper stall vendors.

A group representing prisoners’ rights will meet lawmakers today to complain that prisoners’ wages cannot catch up with the rise for cigarettes provided at correctional institutions.

Among those supporting the bill are 19 pan-democrats, political groups Economic Synergy and Professional Forum, independent lawmakers Chan Kin-por and Samson Tam Wai-ho, and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Lau Kong-wah, due to his Executive Council membership. But his eight fellow lawmakers from the government-friendly DAB are among the 14 abstaining, along with the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions. DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung said the rise was too drastic for low-income people.

Ten lawmakers have confirmed they will oppose the increase, including traditional government ally the Liberal Party. Lawmakers said they had been lobbied by both camps. Pan-democrat Frederick Fung Kin-kee said he was approached by smokers’ groups despite his clearly stated support for the government proposal.

Medical-sector lawmaker Dr Leung Ka-lau was still undecided.

He said the government had pocketed a lot of money from the tobacco tax but had not spent enough on services to help people quit. “Why doesn’t the government provide free cessation services?” Leung asked.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who will vote against the bill, said the government had lobbied for her support.

The Votes Against Tax Hikes Alliance, formed by smokers and newspaper stand owners, yesterday started a sit-in outside the Legco building that will last until the vote.



Yes to the tobacco duty increase (30)

Pan-democrats (19), Professional Forum (4), Economic Synergy (4), Chan Kin-por, Samson Tam Wai-ho, Lau Kong-wah

No to the increase (10)

Liberal Party (3), People Power (2), Paul Tse Wai-chun, Li Fung-ying, Leung Kwok-hung, Regina Ip Lau Sukyee, Leung Yiu-chung

Abstain (14)

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (8), Federation of Trade Unions (4), Chim Pui-chung, Lam Tai-fai

Unknown (5)

David Li Kwok-po, Timothy Fok Tsunting, Paul Chan Mo-po, Leung Ka-lau, Philip Wong Yu-hong

The Votes Against Tax Hikes Alliance starts its protest outside the Legco building yesterday.

The Votes Against Tax Hikes Alliance starts its protest outside the Legco building yesterday.

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