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Raising Tobacco Tax Substantially to Achieve Tobacco Endgame
Increasing tobacco tax has been proved as the single most effective measure to reduce tobacco use which can motivate smokers to quit and deter youth from starting to smoke. The Government announced “Towards 2025: Strategy and Action Plan to Prevent and Control Non-communicable Diseases” in 2018. Further reducing the smoking prevalence from 10.0% to 7.8% by 2025 is one of the targets. However, in Hong Kong, the policy on tobacco tax remained at a standstill. The tobacco tax has been frozen for the past five consecutive years and eight years of the last 10 years. Tobacco control groups, academia, medical and healthcare professionals, parents and education sector, patient and quitter groups jointly urge the Government to break the ice by raising tobacco tax by 100% and also subsequent annual tax hikes, in order to accelerate the reduction in tobacco consumption to protect public health.

Mr Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman said, “Tobacco tax has been frozen in most years over the past decade. The last substantial tobacco tax increment was made far back in 2011. Despite the World Health Organization’s recommendation that tobacco tax should be increased to at least 75% of the retail price, the tax of major cigarette brands in Hong Kong accounts for only around 64% of the retail price. We advocate the Government to raise tobacco tax substantially by 100% in FY2020-2021, as well as to formulate the policy for annual tax increase to reduce the smoking prevalence to 5% and achieve tobacco endgame as soon as possible.”

According to COSH’s Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey conducted from September 2018 to March 2019, 79.6% of all respondents supported raising tobacco tax next year, including 34.6% of current smokers. Also, majority of respondents (70.9%) supported an annual tobacco tax increase. 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 pointed out, “The survey results highlighted a majority support from the public for a substantial tobacco tax hike followed by annual tax increase. We urge the Government to actively respond to public views and safeguard public health.

Hong Kong achieved impressive progress in curbing the smoking epidemic while aligning with five of the six MPOWER measures suggested by World Health Organization (WHO), including Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies (M), Protect people from tobacco smoke (P), Offer help to quit tobacco use (O), Warn about the dangers of tobacco (W) and Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (E). Only for Raise taxes on tobacco (R), Hong Kong does not meet the recommendation by WHO. WHO recommended that the tobacco tax should account for at least 75% of the retail price. Nearly 40 countries have already raised the tobacco tax to at least 75% of the retail price, and another 20 countries have raised it to at least 70% of the retail price.

Currently, the retail price of a pack of major cigarette brands is about HK$59, which is much lower than other developed regions. Inflation and income growth can erode the effectiveness of tax measures over time if the tax level does not increase. According to the Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey, 84.5% current smokers would reduce daily consumption or quit if the retail price of cigarettes increases. They also suggested that the cigarette retail price per pack should be set at a median price of HK$100 to effectively motivate them to quit. Local evidence has shown that substantial tobacco tax increases can significantly motivate smokers to refrain from smoking, enhance their determination to quit and deter smoking uptake in adolescents. Successful quitter Mr TSANG Shue-wing shared that he was always aware of smoking hazards but never had the determination to quit. The cigarette price hike a few years ago strengthened his will to quit. He now enjoys a smoke-free lifestyle after his retirement and saves more money after kicking the habit.

Many countries have set a Tobacco Endgame plan with schedule. For instance, New Zealand and Malaysia aim to reduce the smoking prevalence to 5% by 2025 and 2045 respectively. We advocate the Government to raise tobacco tax by 100% in FY2020-2021 and impose subsequent annual tax hike. We also urge the Government to strengthen the multi-pronged tobacco control measures with defined schedules, including total ban on alternative smoking products, implementation of plain packaging, banning all tobacco product display at points of sale, extension of smoke-free areas and placing legal onus on venue managers for smoking offences, increasing the legal tobacco sales age to 21, tightening enforcement, as well as allocation of more resources for smoking cessation services and smoke-free education in order to lower the smoking prevalence to 5% or below in 2027 and achieve the Tobacco Endgame goal in Hong Kong.

This press statement is jointly released by:

Tobacco control groups
  • Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health
  • Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control
  • Yan Chai Hospital
  • Pok Oi Hospital
  • The Lok Sin Tong Benevolent Society, Kowloon
  • Tung Wah Group of Hospitals
  • United Christian Nethersole Community Health Service
  • Christian Family Service Centre
  • Clear the Air
  • Po Leung Kuk

  • Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong
  • School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong
  • JC School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • School of Nursing, The University of Hong Kong
  • School of Nursing, Tung Wah College
  • The Nethersole School of Nursing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Medical and healthcare professionals
  • Hong Kong Academy of Medicine
  • The Hong Kong Medical Association
  • The Federation of Medical Societies of Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong Doctors Union
  • Hong Kong Dental Association
  • Hong Kong College of Cardiology
  • The Pharmaceutical Society of Hong Kong
  • The Hong Kong Academy of Nursing Limited
  • The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong
  • Hospital Authority

Parents and Education sector
  • Committee on Home-School Co-operation
  • Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association
  • Hong Kong Subsidized Secondary Schools Council
  • The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools
  • Life Education Activity Programme

Patient and quitter groups
  • Quit Winners Club
  • The New Voice Club of Hong Kong
  • The Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society

Photo caption:

Tobacco control groups, academia, medical and healthcare professionals, parents and education sector, patient and quitter groups advocate the Government to raise tobacco tax by 100% to further lower the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong.
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