LCQ8: Tobacco control policies

     Following is a question by the Hon Vincent Fang and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (February 16):


     I have received complaints from smokers and non-smokers recently.  The former have pointed out that following the Government's significant increase in tobacco duty in 2009, i.e. levying the duty at a flat rate of $24 per packet of cigarettes containing 20 cigarettes, even the prices of low-priced cigarettes have increased sharply, which has added to their burden; furthermore, some anti-smoking groups have recently called for further increase of tobacco duty rate to 75% of the retail price of cigarettes.  The smokers worry that further increase in tobacco duty will render duty-paid cigarettes beyond their means, and they cannot but to switch to illicit cigarettes.  Non-smokers have also pointed out that many smokers stand on the pedestrian walkways to smoke after the Government's total ban on smoking, causing a nuisance to passers-by, hence the non-smokers hope that the Government can protect non-smoking passers-by from the impact of second-hand smoking by setting up smoking rooms or resorting to other means.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government has compiled statistics on the smoking prevalence of the Hong Kong population and average daily cigarette consumption among smokers at present, as well as comparisons of these figures with those before the introduction of the total ban on smoking in 2007 and the significant increase in tobacco duty in 2009;

(b) of the respective ratios of tobacco duty to the retail price, the quantities of duty-paid cigarettes, as well as the revenues collected on tobacco duty by the Government of cigarettes sold in Hong Kong in the 12 months before and after the significant increase in tobacco duty in 2009 (set out in table form);

(c) whether it knows which 10 countries and cities have the highest and lowest ratios of tobacco duty to retail price of cigarettes at present (for tobacco duty only, excluding other taxes such as consumption tax), as well as the respective smoking population and average annual consumption in these countries and cities (set out in table form);

(d) whether the government has any established policy to increase tobacco duty until it reaches a certain ratio to the retail price of cigarettes, and whether tobacco duty will be levied on a percentage basis instead of the flat-rate at present;

(e) given that some members of the public have relayed to me that it is increasingly common for smokers to smoke at home and on pedestrian walkways, whether the Government will reconsider setting up smoking rooms so as to reduce the impact of second-hand smoking on non-smokers; if it will not, whether the Government has any other means to address this issue; and

(f) whether the Government will consider listing cigarettes as contraband and prohibiting the sale of cigarettes in Hong Kong; if it will, of the plan; if not, whether it will allow more flexibility for operating the business of this commodity and more respectable smoking areas for smokers?



     First of all, I have to point out that it has been recognised both locally and internationally that smoking is hazardous to public health and personal health.  For the public, smoking and second-hand smoke will not only affect the population's health, but will also cause various diseases that result in economic loss to the society and pose a long-term burden to our healthcare system.  For smokers, smoking addiction is a chronic disease that causes health problems.  Giving up such a harmful habit as smoking will not only benefit personal health, but also do away with a wasteful and avoidable expenditure item.

     Over the years, the Government has been strengthening its tobacco control in a progressive manner in an effort to minimise the use of tobacco and prevent young people from becoming addicted to smoking.  The Government has also strived to strike a balance between the expectations of non-smokers and smokers in designating no smoking areas and enforcing a smoking ban to reduce exposure of the public to second-hand smoke.  The Government will continue to take a multi-pronged approach in implementing its tobacco control policies comprising publicity, education, legislation, law enforcement, taxation and promotion of smoking cessation, so as to contain the proliferation of tobacco use and safeguard public health.

     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Member is as follows:

(a) The Government collects statistics relating to tobacco control from time to time, including the percentage of smokers in the Hong Kong population, the average daily consumption of cigarettes by smokers, the number of duty-paid cigarettes, etc.  The statistics on smoking pattern since the 1980's and the rates of tobacco duty over the same period are at Appendix 1.  The last two surveys on smoking pattern were conducted from December 2007 to March 2008 and from November 2009 to February 2010 respectively by the Census and Statistics Department.

     Statistics from these two surveys showed that the proportion of persons who had a smoking habit among all persons aged 15 and above accounted for 13.1% and 13.0% respectively, and the proportion of daily smokers being 11.8% and 12.0% respectively.  There was no significant change in the overall proportion of smokers between the two surveys.  However, an analysis by age group showed that the proportion of smokers in the younger age groups of 15 to 29 dropped significantly by more than 10% between the two surveys while the average daily consumption of cigarettes among daily smokers dropped moderately from 13.9 sticks to 13.7 sticks.  There was a more significant drop in the average daily consumption of cigarettes (from an average of 33.9 sticks per day to 28.5 sticks) among heavy smokers (those with daily consumption of more than 20 sticks).

(b) The tobacco duty rates and the amount of cigarette duty collected in the past are shown in Appendix 1.  According to the Customs and Excise Department, the percentage of tobacco duty in the retail prices of cigarettes (each packet of 20 cigarettes) since 2007 was around 56% (in 2007), 55% (in 2008) and 62% (in 2009 and 2010) respectively, taking reference with the retail price of the brand with the highest quantity of duty-paid cigarettes.

(c) The 10 countries with the highest and lowest proportion of tobacco duty to retail price of cigarettes, the percentage of their smoking population, the retail price of cigarettes, and the proportion of tobacco duty to cigarette retail price in these countries as reported in the "WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009: Implementing Smoke-free Environments" are shown at Appendix 2.  We do not have information about the average annual consumption of cigarettes in these countries.  It should be noted that in the 10 countries with the highest proportion of tobacco duty to cigarette retail price, their rates of tobacco duty are all at 78% or above, significantly higher than that of Hong Kong (62%).

(d) The Government has no established policy to increase the rate of tobacco duty to a certain percentage of the retail price.  The Financial Secretary will review the necessity of adjusting tobacco duty in the annual Budget exercise after taking into consideration factors such as public finance, economic conditions and relevant tobacco control policies.  In considering whether to increase the tobacco duty, apart from the objective of implementing tobacco control by way of taxation, factors such as the affordability of the public and whether it will give rise to more smuggling activities and illegal sale of illicit cigarettes on the streets will also be taken into account in order to strike an appropriate balance.

(e) Safeguarding public health through implementing smoking ban at all indoor public places and workplaces as well as individual leisure grounds or other outdoor places was the consensus reached when the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance was last amended in 2006.  As we reported to this Council in 2009 on the findings of a feasibility study on smoking room, both our study findings and the experience of overseas countries showed that establishment of smoking rooms entail significant technical and operation difficulties.  There was currently no conclusive evidence to prove that smoking rooms can effectively segregate smokers from non-smokers.  We thus considered that provision of smoking room was not practicable in light of actual circumstances in Hong Kong.

     The Government noted that after implementation of indoor smoking ban, more smokers turn to smoking outdoors such as smoking on the streets.  To reduce the exposure of the public to second-hand smoke, the most effective way is to reduce the overall smoking population through assisting smokers to quit smoking and preventing young people from picking up the smoking habit.

     On smoking cessation, the Department of Health (DH) and the Hospital Authority (HA) provide various kind of smoking cessation services, including a hotline, clinics, and an interactive online cessation centre, providing smokers with advice to quitting, psychological counselling and pharmaceutical treatment.  To further strengthen its efforts on smoking prevention and cessation, DH has launched a community-based smoking cessation programme jointly with the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals since January 2009, and also launched a pilot community-based smoking cessation programme through counseling and acupuncture with Pok Oi Hospital since April 2010.  The number of enquiries received by the DH's smoking cessation hotline has increased in multiples since the increase in tobacco duty in 2009, reflecting an overall upward trend in the number of smokers seeking help for smoking cessation.

(f) Smoking is an unhealthy lifestyle.  The Government has been taking a progressive and multi-pronged approach in its tobacco control policies, comprising legislation, taxation, publicity, education and law enforcement to advise the public of the health hazards of smoking, discourage them from smoking, encourage smokers to quit or reduce smoking as early as possible, and protect the public from the adverse impact of second-hand smoke to the extent possible.  The Government has no plan at this stage to prohibit tobacco sale in Hong Kong.  We will continue to keep in view the compliance situation after implementation of smoking ban in various venues, with a view to assessing the need and means for further strengthening our efforts in tobacco control so as to minimise the impact of second-hand smoke on the public for safeguarding public health.

Ends/Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:09