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Raising Taxes Just The First Step On Anti-Smoking Front

Updated on Mar 01, 2009 – SCMP

Stepped-up smuggling activities are to be expected after the government raised tobacco duty by 50 per cent. But the brazen manner in which some criminals hand out fliers in busy streets and drop them in residential mailboxes to promote the sale of illegal cigarettes is deeply troubling. Customs and police have anticipated such developments; they must make sure they have adequate resources and manpower to nip such criminal activities in the bud.

It was right to raise the duty on cigarettes; we had not done so since 2002. As a result, our city had been selling some of the cheapest cigarettes in the developed world. Officials had cited the danger of encouraging tobacco smuggling as a reason to avoid raising taxes. Now they have bitten the bullet. By making smoking expensive, it will help deter people from starting the habit and encourage addicts to quit. The revised duty will not only help boost government coffers at a time of a rising deficit, but save many lives. It is especially important to discourage youngsters from taking up the deadly habit.

However, law enforcement against smugglers and illegal sellers must be coupled with education and medical services to help smokers quit. And anti-smoking messages should be promoted. Unfortunately, with an illegal pack selling for as little as HK$6, more smokers may be tempted to buy illegal cigarettes in this downturn. Such people may need to be nudged in the right direction.

Is it not more sensible to quit than to resort to dealing with criminals and waste money on illegal tobacco that will damage one’s health? But to get this message across, more community resources and campaign drives are needed. The Department of Health and some non-government groups run free or highly subsidised smoking-cessation services. Schools should also be given more resources to educate young people, but with more effective and creative messages so they get the point. This summer will see the smoking ban extended to all enclosed public spaces. Many bars are lobbying to extend their exemption from the ban. Officials must stick to their guns, because our city is finally moving in the right direction on the anti-smoking front.

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