Published: 19:30, July 12, 2023 | Updated: 21:44, July 12, 2023
HK eyes higher tobacco tax, legal age for cigarette buyers
By Mike Gu in Hong Kong

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau (center), together with Director of Health Ronald Lam Man-kin (left), display the public consultation document on tobacco control strategies at a press conference on July 12, 2023. (PHOTO / HKSAR GOVERNMENT)

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government is considering increasing the tobacco tax and raising the legal age for cigarette buyers in a bid to reduce the city’s smoking rate, according to a consultation document released by the Health Bureau on Wednesday.

The government is also considering expanding the scope of legally-designated no-smoking areas and banning “smoking while walking”, according to the document, which was released to seek the opinions of members of the public on the proposed measures. The consultation period ends on Sept 30.  

Hong Kong charges 62 percent of the tobacco products’ retail price as tax, which is higher than the rates in about 65 percent of countries and regions worldwide

“Increasing tobacco duty is internationally recognized as the most effective means to lower smoking prevalence,” reads the document.

The World Health Organization had recommended that the tobacco tax should amount to at least 75 percent of the retail price of the tobacco products.

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Hong Kong charges 62 percent of the tobacco products’ retail price as tax, which is higher than the rates in about 65 percent of countries and regions worldwide.

This year, the budget proposed raising the tobacco tax to 68 percent, as the city effectively brought down the smoking rate each time it has increased the tax in 2009, 2011 and 2014.  

The bureau also noted said that some countries have raised the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco products to 20 years old or even above. A survey by the government showed that most smokers in the city began smoking during adolescence and became regular smokers by the age of 21.

“A few countries, such as New Zealand, even proposed to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to person born after a certain date,” the bureau said.

“One of the goals for our tobacco control strategies is to prevent the new generation from being affected by the tobacco hazard, and reduce the risk for them turning into a smoker in the rest of their lives,” it added.

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Currently, it is illegal to sell tobacco products to those aged under 18 and those convicted could be fined HK$25,000 ($3,200). Many countries have similar restrictions on buying tobacco. In Sri Lanka, only those aged 25 or over can purchase tobacco products. In Japan and South Korea, the minimum age is 20.

There are 581,000 smokers in the city, representing 9.5 percent of those aged over 15, according to a government survey. In the 1980s, smokers made up about 20 percent of the city’s population.


Contact the writer at mikegu@chinadailyhk.com