Raising tobacco tax by 100% to lower smoking rate in Hong Kong promptly and leap towards a Tobacco Endgame in 2027
2017.11.302017 marks the 35th anniversary of tobacco control and also the decennial of the indoor smoking ban in Hong Kong. To protect public health, Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (“COSH”) urges the Government to follow the global trend in developing long-term and comprehensive tobacco control policies to further lower the smoking prevalence. Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman remarked, “Many countries have already set their Tobacco Endgame Plan with defined schedules and implemented innovative tobacco control policies and measures to achieve the goal. COSH advocates the Government for increasing the tobacco tax by 100% to reduce the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to a single digit percentage as soon as possible. Long-term and multi-pronged tobacco control policies should also be developed to further lower the smoking prevalence to 5% or below and achieve the Tobacco Endgame goal in 2027.”
Tobacco Endgame Plan refers to the smoking prevalence rate of 5% or below by an announced date. Many governments in different countries have set their goals with announced dates including New Zealand and Ireland (2025), Canada (2035) and Malaysia (2045). Prof Judith MACKAY, Director of Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control and Senior Policy Advisor of World Health Organization (WHO) said, “There must be obstacles as well as tobacco industry interference on the ways towards the endgame, such as the tobacco industry intimidates governments with litigation or exaggerates the economic importance of the industry. Hong Kong is already the closest to smoking rate of 5% than any other countries with the plan. We must speed up the pace towards the endgame target.”
Raising tobacco tax has been proved as the single most effective tobacco control measure in encouraging smokers to kick the habit and preventing children and teenagers from initiating smoking in many countries and regions including Hong Kong. Currently, cigarette price of the major brands in Hong Kong is about HK$57 per pack, the tobacco tax is only about 67% of the retail price, which is lower than the 75% recommended by WHO. The retail price is also low when compared to other developed regions such as Australia (about HK$154), New Zealand (about HK$133), the United Kingdom (about HK$94), Canada (about HK$78) and Singapore (about HK$75). Other counties have also adopted a long-term and continuous tobacco tax policy. For example, Australia set a 12.5% annual increase from 2013 to 2020; New Zealand had implemented a 10% annual tax rise from 2012 to 2016 which brought about a reduction of tobacco consumption per capita by a quarter and motivated thousands of smokers to quit, while a 10% annual increase will be implemented from 2017 to 2020 to maintain the price effect on the demand of tobacco products. Dr Hana ROSS, Professor of School of Economics of University of Cape Town, South Africa analyzed that the relative price of Hong Kong’s tobacco products in 2015 was cheaper than 1991. To lower the smoking rate to a single digit percentage as soon as possible, it is proposed to increase the tobacco tax substantially by 100%.
COSH also invited two international experts to share the innovative tobacco control measures. Australia was the first country to introduce plain packaging in 2012. Kylie LINDORFF, Manager of Tobacco Control Policy of Cancer Council Victoria, Australia pointed out that there was a significant drop in Australia’s smoking prevalence and plain packaging contributed to 0.55% of the drop. Calls to quitline also increased. Plain packaging is effective in reducing the overall appeal of smoking and motivating smoking cessation. Many countries had also implemented the measure recently including France (2016), the United Kingdom (2016) and Ireland (2017). On the other hand, Prof Jonathan WINICKOFF, Professor of Pediatrics of Harvard Medical School, USA shared the impact of raising the tobacco sales age to 21 in reducing the overall smoking prevalence. In the USA, 95% of adult smokers started smoking before age 21. Tobacco 21 laws have passed in more than 260 localities in 18 states, covering over 25% of the USA population. Besides, expanding smoke-free areas and encouraging smoking cessation can protect the non-smokers especially children from secondhand and third-hand smoke.
COSH commissioned the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong to conduct the Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey 2017. It revealed that over 80% of respondents supported raising tobacco tax next year (2018). The current smokers commented that the cigarette retail price should be increased to HK$293 per pack on average to effectively motivate them to quit smoking. COSH advocates the Government for a substantial tax hike by 100% to lower the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to a single digit percentage promptly. 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 said, “The survey showed that majority (80.7%) of citizens supported tobacco tax rise next year which is effective in curbing the tobacco epidemic as it can enhance smokers’ determination to quit and is an effective deterrent for uptake of smoking among youth who are price sensitive.” Besides, majority (62.1%) of respondents agreed to ban smoking if smoking prevalence in Hong Kong decreases to 5% or lower. The measures were also supported by 31.3% of current smokers. The general public are looking forward to a smoke-free Hong Kong.
COSH will also urge the Government to adopt long-term and comprehensive policies with defined schedules, including implementation of plain packaging, tobacco product display ban at points of sale, extension of smoke-free areas and venue managers should be liable for smoking offences, increasing the legal tobacco sales age, total ban on e-cigarettes, regulation on emerging tobacco products, tightened 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 and achieve the Tobacco Endgame goal in Hong Kong in 2027.
*Plain packaging is also known as standardized packaging and requires all form of tobacco branding to be labeled with standardized regulation. Trade marks, graphics and logos should be detached. Brand name should be displayed in a standard font, colour and location of the cigarette pack. By standardizing the packaging, the overall appeal of smoking can be reduced to motivate smoking cessation and prevent the youth from uptake of smoking and hence lower smoking prevalence.
COSH advocates the Government for increasing the tobacco tax by 100% to lower smoking rate in Hong Kong to a single digit percentage promptly and leap towards a Tobacco Endgame in 2027.