Advocate for a long-term policy on tobacco tax and tobacco control to further lower the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong
2014.09.04Raising tobacco tax has been proved as one of the most effective tobacco control policies in encouraging smokers to kick the habit and preventing children and teenagers from initiating smoking in many countries and regions including Hong Kong. However, the proposal to increase tobacco tax is always subject to objection by a few. Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) has invited Dr Hana ROSS, a world-renowned scholar who has over seventeen years’ experience in conducting researches on the economics of tobacco control, to analyze and give advice on the tobacco tax policy in Hong Kong.
According to the analysis of Dr Hana ROSS, the affordability on tobacco products of Hong Kong smokers is quite high. COSH advocates the Government to increase the tobacco tax by at least 57% to further lower the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to single digit.
Dr Hana ROSS points out that the smokers’ affordability on tobacco products affects their cigarette consumption as well as the determination to quit. Tobacco tax has been raised for more than 10 times since the 1980s, however mostly with mild increment. Although the cigarette’s price increased by over 300% from 1989 to 2013, the real price only increased by 25% after deducting inflation. Besides, the average income in Hong Kong also raised. The affordability on tobacco products of Hong Kong smokers had actually increased.
The affordability on tobacco products of Hong Kong smokers is much higher (meaning that cigarettes are much cheaper) than that of the nearby regions and many developed countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Dr ROSS elaborates, “Raising tobacco tax can reduce the affordability on tobacco products and motivate the smokers to quit smoking. In order to lower the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to single digit, a substantial increase in tobacco tax by at least 57% in the short-term is proposed.”
Apart from tobacco tax increase, COSH also advocates the Government to strengthen and amend the current tobacco control policies including expanding the statutory no-smoking areas, banning display and all forms of promotion of tobacco products, regulating the sales of tobacco products and increasing resources on smoking cessation. Ms Lisa LAU, Chairman of COSH says, “Besides increasing tobacco tax, a long-term and comprehensive planning on tobacco control policies is needed to encourage smokers to quit smoking and prevent children and youth from smoking. We hope to reduce the smoking rate to below 10% as soon as possible and to 5% or lower by 2022”
Prof LAM Tai-hing, Chair Professor of Community Medicine cum Sir Robert Kotewall Professor in Public Health, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong suggests to revise the pictorial health warnings on cigarette packets. Prof Lam points out, “The existing six pictorial health warnings have been adopted since 2007 with rapidly diminished effect. More adverse health consequences causally linked to smoking have been identified recently. Hence, it is necessary to establish a policy in Hong Kong to rotate the pictorial warnings on a regular basis, enlarge the coverage of the warnings to at least 75% of the cigarette packet’s surface, highlight that “at least one out of two smokers would be killed by smoking” and add the smoking cessation hotline (1833 183).”
Many countries have announced to implement plain packaging after Australia firstly adopted in 2012. Plain packaging standardizes and simplifies the packaging of tobacco products. The pictorial health warnings are expanded from 50% to 75% or above of the main sides of the cigarette pack. All forms of tobacco branding should be labeled according to the government prescriptions and with simple and plain format. This means that trademarks, graphics and logos are not allowed on cigarette packs, except for the brand name that is displayed in a standard font size, colour and location on the package. The packaging should not contain other colours and should include only the content and consumer information, such as toxic constituents, and health warnings required by law. The quitline number should also be displayed at a prominent position.
Many researches proved that one in every two smokers will die early from smoking, and for those who started smoking at young age and have smoked heavily for many years, 2 out of 3 could be killed by smoking. Cigarettes in Hong Kong are more affordable to many regions, there is huge space for the increment on cigarette price and tobacco tax. To protect the public health and save lives, the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong must be further reduced through the long-term, comprehensive and multi-pronged tobacco control policies and measures.
COSH advocates the Government for raising tobacco tax substantially, amending tobacco control ordinance and increasing resources on smoking cessation to further reduce the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong.
Plain packaging indicates the expansion of the pictorial health warnings to cover at least 75 per cent of the main sides of cigarette pack, no branding and other design features allowed and with smoking cessation hotline at a prominent position.