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Steep Tobacco Tax Rises

Steep tobacco tax rises do not lead to lower rates of smoking

Updated on Mar 11, 2009 – SCMP

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah told the media that the smoking population is going up and this is especially true in the case of females and youths, thus justifying a huge 50 per cent increase in tobacco tax in the budget.

However, this is not the case. The latest survey released by the Census and Statistics Department in November last year shows that the percentage of smokers in the 15 to 19 age group – that is, youths – has declined from 3.5 per cent to 2.4 per cent (“Proportion of young smokers fails”, December 4). The percentage of young female smokers dropped nearly 50 per cent, from 2 per cent to 1.2 per cent between 2005 and 2007.

The percentage of Hong Kong people who smoke has also dropped sharply – from 14 per cent to 11.8 per cent, which is the sharpest drop in recent years.

A study in the British Medical Journal in 2007 showed that cigarettes in Hong Kong were the 11th most expensive (or least affordable) in the 60 major cities in the world. With the drastic 50 per cent tax hike in the budget, Hong Kong will likely become the world’s most expensive place to smoke. Rarely have we seen the government going to such extremes. I dispute another claim by Mr Tsang, that raising tobacco tax would lead to reduced smoking rates.

The last time the government imposed a heavy increase on tobacco tax was in the early 1990s with a rise of 100 per cent.

However, smoking rates in Hong Kong throughout the 1990s did not drop either in terms of the actual number of smokers or in terms of the incidence of smoking. In fact, there was a dramatic increase in the number of smokers during that decade.

It is ironic that in Legco, as recently as last month, Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok quoted the Census and Statistics Department survey [already referred to] that between December 2007 and March 2008, the percentage of smokers in the 15 to 19 age group in Hong Kong dropped from 3.5 per cent in 2005 to 2.4 per cent.

He said: “This shows that the tobacco control measures aimed at young people have been largely effective.”

Chan Yu-chung, Mid-Levels

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