The Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) has urged the government to impose a heavier tax on cigarettes so as to double their prices and cut the number of smokers in Hong Kong, RTHK reports.
According to COSH, about 10.5 percent of the city’s population are smokers. They currently pay about HK$57 for a pack of cigarettes, with tax accounting for 67 percent, or about HK$38, of the price.
The council proposes a 100 percent tax increase, which will raise the retail price of a pack to about HK$100 and, it is estimated, will reduce the smoking population to 5 percent or below by 2027.
Lam Tai-hing, chair professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), said the current price is much lower than that in other developed regions, the Standard newspaper reported.
In Singapore, a pack of cigarettes costs the equivalent of HK$75, while in Britain and Australia, the price is HK$94 and HK$154 respectively.
Commissioned by COSH, the HKU’s School of Public Health conducted a tobacco control policy-related survey, interviewing via telephone 2,002 people aged 15 and above from April to October this year.
According to the study, among the respondents, 70 percent of the non-smokers and 20 percent of the smokers thought the tax on cigarettes should be increased annually, Apple Daily reported.
More than 80 percent of the respondents – 5.7 percent of them are smokers – supported an increase in tobacco tax next year. Of the 298 smokers, 47.3 percent agreed that the cigarette retail price should be increased to HK$293 on average to effectively motivate them to quit smoking.
“The government has no time to remain idle,” said Judith Mackay, a senior policy adviser of the World Health Organization and a committee member of COSH.
She said the government has seen the urgency of meeting the demands of people with rare diseases. “But there are thousands of tobacco deaths every year in Hong Kong,” she said. “We’ve got to act as soon as possible to bring this epidemic down.”
As the Standard reports, COSH chairman Antonio Kwong Cho-sing insisted that raising the tobacco tax is the most effective measure to help smokers kick the habit.
After the government raised tobacco duty in 2009 and 2011, the number of smokers who wanted help to cut smoking in those years skyrocketed, according to COSH.
The government again increased the tax in 2014, but only by 11.8 percent, and the number of people who sought help to quit smoking that year showed only a marginal rise.
COSH said it will also advocate long-term and comprehensive policies such as a ban on tobacco product display at points of sale, the expansion of smoke-free areas, raising the legal age to be able to buy tobacco, tightened enforcement, and allocation of more resources for smoking cessation services and smoke-free education.
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