80% of HK smokers believe that increased tobacco tax will stimulate demand for illicit cigarettes in latest survey, govt urged to engage in public consultation before planning long-term tobacco policies


31st January 2023 – (Hong Kong) Long-term Tobacco Policy Concern Group has been concerned about the long-term development of tobacco control in Hong Kong, and believes that Hong Kong should have a comprehensive set of long-term tobacco policies supported by science and data. Just as the Chief Executive announced in last year’s “Policy Address” that public consultation on tobacco control policies will be conducted within this year, the Long-term Tobacco Policy Concern Group hopes to have a better understanding of the public’s views on various issues and directions in tobacco policies, so it commissioned a survey agency to collect information and research, conduct public opinion survey on “Tobacco Control Issues and Policy Direction in Hong Kong”.

The opinion poll was conducted between December 2022 and January 2023, with responses from 2,015 Hong Kong citizens. The results show that nearly 80% (77%) of the respondents agreed that there is a problem of illicit cigarettes in Hong Kong. Among the respondents who smoked, nearly 70% (67%) believed that adults in Hong Kong are easily exposed to illicit cigarettes. In addition, nearly 70% (68%) of the respondents believe that if the circulation of illicit cigarettes cannot be effectively prevented, the government’s tobacco control measures will not be able to effectively reduce the smoking rate. 80% of the smoking respondents agreed that increased tobacco tax will greatly encourage smokers to seek out cheaper alternatives, including illicit cigarettes, directly contribute to the rise in illicit cigarette smoking.

A spokesperson of the Concern Group pointed out that the survey results indicated that it is very easy for adult smokers to buy illegal cigarettes. In addition, most smoking respondents said that a substantial increase in tobacco taxes would make smokers switch to cheaper cigarettes. Under such circumstances, a substantial increase in tobacco tax is simply a measure to “push smokers to consume more illicit cigarettes”, making illegal smuggling of cigarettes even more rampant. The Concern Group referred to overseas tobacco control experience and conducts surveys to understand the support of smokers and non-smokers for the following five relatively feasible long-term tobacco control policy directions: prevent or reduce youth exposure to tobacco products, strengthen ‘quit-smoking’ education, allow the sale of electronic cigarettes, increase resources for smoking cessation services, and further restrict smoking areas.

In addition, the survey also found that more than 80% (82%) of the smokers and more than half (54%) of the non-smokers agreed that the freedom of adults to choose to smoke should be respected under the premise that the problem of second-hand smoke is properly dealt with. The Concern Group reiterates that the public consultation is aimed at broadening the opinions of different stakeholders. The government should carefully listen to the opinions of various sectors during the consultation. After the consultation is completed, it should review the effectiveness of the current tobacco control policy, optimise the policy direction, and then implement further tobacco policies. The Concern Group also pointed out that smokers are important stakeholders in tobacco policy, and suggested that smokers should be allowed to participate in more discussions on tobacco policy in the future, so that the government can better understand the actual situation of tobacco use and the opinion of smokers.