23rd September 2023 – (Hong Kong) The problem of illicit cigarettes in Hong Kong has reached alarming levels, with the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) seizing approximately 500 million suspected illicit cigarettes as of September 2023. The prevalence of illegal illicit cigarettes, particularly among youngsters, has raised concerns among the public. In response, Idea4HK, a community organization, has consulted experts from various sectors and put forward concrete suggestions to address the issue and prevent teenagers from being affected.
Idea4HK proposes that the government’s tobacco control strategies should prioritize two key directions: reducing youngsters’ exposure to tobacco products and lowering overall smoking prevalence. To achieve these goals, the organization recommends five specific measures. Firstly, it suggests strengthening public education, giving special attention to duty-not-paid cigarettes. This would educate retailers about the risks associated with illicit cigarettes and raise awareness among consumers about the harm caused by these products.
Secondly, Idea4HK calls for measures to prevent excessive promotion of tobacco products, starting with a ban on fruity-flavored cigarettes. This flavouring appeals to young people, and illegal traders have been actively promoting these products through unauthorized advertisements and the distribution of free samples. By banning fruity-flavoured cigarettes, the government can curtail their popularity among teenagers.
Thirdly, Idea4HK proposes raising the legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 years old, creating a safety net to protect young individuals from tobacco exposure. This measure aligns with international trends and aims to discourage teenagers from initiating smoking.
Expanding no-smoking areas (NSAs) is the fourth recommendation put forward by Idea4HK. By extending NSAs to cover areas near kindergartens, schools, community centres, and youth facilities, the government can shield children and teenagers from second-hand smoke, further promoting a smoke-free environment.
Lastly, Idea4HK urges the government to abandon old mindsets and learn from successful experiences in the Mainland and overseas. By adopting innovative approaches based on scientific evidence, Hong Kong can develop comprehensive tobacco control strategies. Idea4HK cites examples from jurisdictions like New Zealand, where the government regulated and promoted new tobacco products to encourage smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives, resulting in a significant reduction in smoking prevalence.
Idea4HK commends the government’s public consultation on tobacco control strategies and emphasizes the importance of considering public opinions and views from different sectors. While Hong Kong has made progress in reducing smoking prevalence over the past four decades, the organization believes that more effective measures are needed. The rampant sale of illicit cigarettes poses a significant challenge to tobacco control efforts. Therefore, Idea4HK suggests that the government focuses on strengthening public education, distinguishes between legal and illegal cigarettes using technology, and prioritises legislation to ban the sale of fruity-flavored cigarettes.