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COSH response to the tobacco control policies proposed by The Budget
2016.02.24
Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) expressed disappointment for the decision of the Financial Secretary in The 2016-17 Budget that the tobacco tax will not be raised.

Mr Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman reiterated, “Raising tobacco tax is one of the effective measures to lower the smoking prevalence and safeguard the public health in Hong Kong. A relative large increase in tobacco tax has proven significant in encouraging smoking cessation in the past. Therefore, COSH has sent an open letter to the Financial Secretary to call for raising tobacco tax by 100%. Tobacco tax is again frozen this year which will further weaken the price effect on reducing tobacco consumption.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), raising tobacco tax is the single most effective measure to reduce tobacco use and encourage smoking cessation. In Hong Kong, calls received by the Integrated Smoking Cessation Hotline of the Department of Health increased drastically after substantial increase in tobacco tax in the past. It was a solid evidence of the effectiveness of tobacco tax on motivating smoking cessation. The WHO’s Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2015 recommended that raising tobacco tax to more than 75% of the retail price is among the most effective and cost-effective tobacco control intervention which costs little to implement and increases government revenues. Over 30 countries have raised tobacco tax to more than 75% of the retail price.

Cigarette price of the major brands in Hong Kong is about HK$55 per pack. Tobacco tax is accounted for about 69% only. It is also low when compared to other developed regions such as Australia (about HK$124), New Zealand (about HK$113), United Kingdom (about HK$99) and Singapore (about HK$81). According to Dr Hana ROSS, an international expert of tobacco control economics, the real price of Hong Kong cigarette in 2013 had increased by only 25% from 1989 after deducting inflation. Besides, the average income in Hong Kong also raised, meaning that the affordability on tobacco products of Hong Kong smokers had actually increased.

COSH reaffirms that there is no causal link between tobacco tax increase and illicit cigarette smuggling. However, the tobacco industry and its supporting organizations continue to exaggerate the situation of smuggling in Hong Kong and express strong opposition against tobacco tax increase under the pretext that it will lead to a surge in illicit cigarette smuggling. WHO has already rejected the data of the organizations supported by the tobacco industry, e.g. International Tax and Investment Centre, which intended to undermine the tobacco tax and price policy. It is unreasonable and ineffective to solve the smuggling problem by freezing tobacco tax. The most effective measure to combat smuggling and illegal trade of tobacco products is strict enforcement.

Tobacco use is a huge burden to individuals as well as the whole society. Smoking not only causes about 7,000 loss of lives in Hong Kong every year, but also incurs considerable medical expenses and loss of productivity. COSH strongly advises the Government to formulate a proactive and long-term policy on raising tobacco tax. The Government should also strengthen the multi-pronged tobacco control measures, including allocating more resources on smoke-free education, smoking cessation services and enforcement to combat smuggling in order to reduce the smoking prevalence to single digit and achieve a smoke-free Hong Kong as soon as possible.

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