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Multi-prolonged Tobacco Control Measures to Protect Public Health Raising Tobacco Tax with Stringent Enforcement against Illicit Cigarettes
A recent study claimed that illicit cigarettes proliferated in Hong Kong due to the tobacco tax increases introduced in Hong Kong in 2009 and 2011. Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) expressed reservation on the results of this tobacco industry-funded study. Ms Lisa LAU, Chairman of COSH points out, “Tobacco industry and its supporters always express strong opposition against tobacco tax increase under the pretext that it will lead to a surge in cigarette smuggling activities. But such statement stands without acceptable reasoning and evidence support.”

Last year, COSH commissioned the School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong to have an in-depth analysis on the study “The Asia-11: 2012 Illicit Tobacco Indicator”. It was found that the calculations of the study were unclear using dubious methods. The University of Hong Kong sent a written inquiry about the methods but no reply was received. COSH expressed reservations on the study.

COSH and HKU have made an alternative estimation of illicit cigarette consumption in Hong Kong in a scientific way with transparent and testable assumptions. The estimation used data from Hong Kong government surveys (Census and Statistic Department, HKSAR) and routine scientifically based sources (Customs and Excise Department, HKSAR; Tourism Commission, HKSAR and Immigration Department, HKSAR). It is estimated that consumption of illicit cigarettes in Hong Kong ranges from 8.3% to 14% in Hong Kong, which is much lower than the Oxford Economics’ estimation of 35.9%.
As recommended by the World Health Organization, the most effective measure against smuggling is tight control and aggressive enforcement. Promotion and education should also be strengthened to enhance public awareness on the illegality of illicit cigarettes. COSH is pleased to see the efficacy of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department’s stringent enforcement against illicit cigarette activities on all fronts, including telephone ordering of illicit cigarettes. This shows the determination of the Customs and Excise Department in combating illicit cigarette trade and the effectiveness of its enforcement strategy to protect the Government’s tax revenue and public health.

Each year, smoking causes nearly 6,000 deaths in Hong Kong and additional 1,324 non-smokers died from secondhand smoke, as well as HK$5.3 billion economic loss. Raising tobacco tax is only one of the most effective measures on tobacco control. To protect the public health and save lives, COSH urges the Government to increase the tobacco tax by at least 57% and also to implement long-term, comprehensive and multi-pronged tobacco control policies and measures, including expanding the statutory no-smoking areas, banning display and all forms of promotion of tobacco products and increasing resources on smoking cessation, education, promotion, enforcement and combatting illicit cigarette trade to further reduce the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong.

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