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We Need An Even Higher Tobacco Tax Hike

Mar 05, 2009 – SCMP

I refer to the letter by Chris Robinson (“Punitive tactics just put smokers on the defensive”, March 2). As he was a market sales consultant to tobacco companies, I can understand his irritation.

In contrast to Mr Robinson’s assessment of tobacco control in Hong Kong, there are still large gaps in essential public health measures, as prescribed by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which allows the tobacco industry to maintain brand value in the eyes of young people, its principal target.

While I agree with Sally Lo, of Hong Kong Cancer Fund (“Tobacco tax rise applauded”, February Post 27) and Sian Griffiths, of Chinese University’s school of public health (“A victory for public health”, March 2) that the increase in duty will lead to health gains, it will not compensate for the damage done during the eight years that this measure was stalled.

The present tax rise is necessary but not sufficient. Tobacco is still far too cheap and we will need further tax rises to ensure our tax is in the band recommended by the World Bank and the WHO.

We should be told why the advice of the government’s public health authorities, rather than the tobacco industry, was ignored for so long and need a much more consistent approach to public health policy if we are to benefit in the long term from a reduction in the tobacco epidemic and reallocation of resources from increased tax revenue to health care including smoking cessation.

I remain pessimistic about the prospect of a sustained programme of fiscal measures to support public health. On RTHK’s Backchat on February 27, when it was pointed out he would have more funds to strengthen disciplined services to combat smuggling, the financial secretary said: “I hope not to have increased revenue.”

While we may eventually reach a point where tax rises are revenue neutral, at present there is enormous scope and need to ensure we generate higher revenue through tax to fully exploit the effect of price on protection of youth and compensate public sector health services for the continuing costs of tobacco-induced disease. That would be an evidence-based approach rather than the measures advocated by tobacco industry lobbyists which are designed to support shareholder’s dividends but fail public health.

Anthony J. Hedley, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

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