Home Finance Hong Kong Unveils Ambitious Tobacco Control Policies to Create ‘Tobacco-Free Hong Kong’

Hong Kong Unveils Ambitious Tobacco Control Policies to Create ‘Tobacco-Free Hong Kong’

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In a bold move towards public health reform, Hong Kong announced ten new tobacco control policies on Thursday. These comprehensive measures include a novel duty-paid labeling system, a prohibition on smoking while queuing in public, and a ban on all flavored cigarettes and alternative tobacco products such as vapes and heated cigarettes.

These initiatives are part of the government’s broader strategy to reduce smoking prevalence to 7.8 percent by 2025, with the ultimate goal of realizing a “Tobacco-free Hong Kong.” This announcement follows an extensive public consultation exercise initiated last year.

Among the newly introduced measures is a significant increase in penalties for evading tobacco duty, now set at a maximum fine of HK$2 million and up to seven years of imprisonment. The government also plans to ban the provision of cigarettes to minors, continuously review tobacco duty adjustments, and expand non-smoking areas while increasing fines for violations.

In an effort to further discourage smoking, cigarette packaging will be required to have full coverage warning labels. Additionally, the government will enhance support for smokers wishing to quit and intensify public promotion and education efforts.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau, speaking at a press conference on Thursday, expressed his commitment to presenting the new policies to the Legislative Council before the end of the year, with expectations of passage within this legislative cycle. Lo highlighted that over 90 percent of respondents in the public consultation supported further reducing smoking prevalence. The proposed measures, he noted, were carefully crafted considering expected outcomes, public acceptance, and the practicalities of law enforcement.

Director of Health Ronald Lam Man-kin emphasized the urgency of these measures, revealing that Hong Kong currently has over 570,000 daily smokers, with a smoking prevalence of 9.1 percent. He pointed out that younger smokers are particularly inclined towards flavored cigarettes, underlining the importance of banning these products.

Commissioner of Customs Louise Ho Pui-shan reported the success of a recent large-scale enforcement operation, which resulted in the detection of 4,726 cases, the seizure of 139 million illicit cigarettes and 1,630 kilograms of other tobacco products. The confiscated goods were valued at approximately HK$635 million, with a potential duty of about HK$454 million. A total of 4,347 individuals were arrested during the operation.

Ho also addressed criticism regarding the government’s revenue from tobacco sales, noting a decline in duty-paid cigarettes from 3.37 billion in 2019 to 2.97 billion in 2023, correlating with a simultaneous drop in smoking prevalence.

Dicky Chow Ka-chun, head of Healthcare and Social Innovation at Our Hong Kong Foundation, welcomed the new measures. He believes the duty-paid cigarette labeling system will effectively combat the sale of illegal tobacco products, while bans on alternative cigarette products will further encourage smoking cessation and deter youth from starting the habit.

With these robust policies, Hong Kong takes a significant step towards safeguarding public health and achieving its vision of a smoke-free future.