Anti-Smoking lobby puts $100 a pack in the air

Local | Sophie Hui 15 Jan 2020

The Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health is pushing for an increase in the tobacco tax to raise the price of cigarettes to nearly HK$100 per pack.

Together with other anti-smoking campaigners and health-care groups, the council wants a hefty hike in the tax to turn try to turn people off tobacco.

The government is also being urged to establish a long-term policy to allow for tobacco tax increases yearly.

Council chairman Antonio Kwong Cho-sing said the tax has been frozen for most years in the past decade.

On that, he noted it remained unchanged for five years after it was increased by 11.8 percent in 2014.

"Despite the World Health Organization's recommendation that tobacco tax should be increased to at least 75 percent of the retail price, the tax on major cigarette brands in Hong Kong accounts for only around 64 percent of the retail price," Kwong said.

"We advocate that the government raise the tobacco tax substantially, by 100 percent, in the 2020-2021 fiscal year as well as formulating a policy for annual tax increases to reduce the smoking prevalence to 5 percent and achieve a tobacco endgame as soon as possible."

The retail price of a pack of major-brand cigarettes is about HK$59, and HK$38 of that is tobacco tax. The price of a pack would go to around HK$97 if the suggested tax increase is agreed.

The council also noted that 80 percent of people support tax increases according to a survey that drew on the views of about 2,000 people from September 2018 to March.

And 34.6 percent of 280 smokers among the respondents supported an increase while 70.9 percent of all respondents backed an annual increase.

Meyrick Chow Chum-ming, the acting dean and a professor at Tung Wah College's School of Nursing, said people such as low-income earners, teenagers and elderly are sensitive to cigarette price changes.

He believed a price of about HK$100 a pack would discourage people from smoking - and certainly those with low incomes.

Tsang Shue-wing, 72, who quit smoking in 2014, said he had started smoking when he was 14.

He decided to quit after the price of cigarettes was raised a few years ago and increased his financial burden after retirement.

Now, he said, he is healthier with a smoke-free lifestyle besides being able to save money.

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