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COSH’s response to the latest smoking prevalence of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) is glad that the smoking prevalence of Hong Kong has gradually dropped to 10%. However, the efforts in curbing the tobacco epidemic must continue to be strengthened. Mr Antonio KWONG, COSH Chairman said, “Although the smoking prevalence of Hong Kong has further decreased, COSH has serious concerns on the growth of electronic cigarettes and emerging tobacco products in recent years. They are marketed as trendy products attracting non-smokers, particularly the youngsters to try. Some smokers may switch to these products instead of quitting smoking. There is no safe form of tobacco. Harmful chemicals were also found in e-cigarettes and emerging tobacco products bringing health risks to the public. The Government should regulate these products as soon as possible to nip it in the bud.”

According to the Thematic Household Survey Report No. 64 released by Census and Statistics Department today, the prevalence of daily cigarette smokers of Hong Kong (aged 15 and over) dropped to 10.0% in 2017 which is equivalent to around 615,000 persons. It is the lowest rate recorded since 1982. The smoking prevalence of male and female daily cigarette smokers were 18.1% and 2.7% respectively. It was also found that there were around 5,700 daily users using electronic smoking devices (including e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products), which equals to 0.9% of daily smokers.

Besides, a school-based survey on smoking was commissioned by the Food and Health Bureau and conducted by the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong during November 2016 to June 2017. Prevalence of current smoking and rate of ever e-cigarette use among secondary school students were 2.5% and 8.7% respectively, and those among primary school students were 0.1% and 1.4% respectively.

The marketing strategies of e-cigarettes are mainly targeting young people. Some smokers may also use emerging products like heat-not-burn tobacco products as a substitute to conventional cigarette. The Government should enact a total ban on e-cigarettes and tighten the regulations on emerging tobacco products promptly. In fact, the Government proposed to regulate e-cigarettes in May 2015. However, the concrete measures are yet to be released. The implementation plan should be confirmed as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, COSH was extremely disappointed that the tobacco tax was frozen again in The 2018-19 Budget which was the fourth consecutive year. It further weakened the price effect on reducing the demand for tobacco. We strongly recommend the Government to raise the tobacco tax substantially in the coming financial year to prevent the smoking prevalence from going up again. The tobacco control policies should also be strengthened through a multi-pronged approach, including the implementation of plain packaging, banning all tobacco product display at points of sale, extension of smoke-free areas, placing legal onus on venue managers who should be liable for smoking offences, increasing the legal tobacco sales age, tightened enforcement, as well as allocation of more resources for smoking cessation services and smoke-free education. It is hoped that the smoking prevalence will be lowered to a single digit percentage in the near future and to 5% or below in 2027 and leap towards a tobacco endgame to protect the public from the harms of tobacco and secondhand smoke.
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