Tobacco tax increase ‘too little’: associations

The tobacco tax will more than double, from MOP 4 to MOP 10, according to a government-proposed draft law recently sent to lawmakers’ approval.
Local anti-smoking associations regard the MOP 6 raise as too low, while Hong Kong-based World Health Organisation (WHO) senior policy advisor Judith Mackay says it is still “inadequate”.
The secretary for Economy and Finance Francis Tam Pak Yuen had promised to raise the tobacco tax last month at the Legislative Assembly.

The tax will increase by MOP 0.5 for each cigarette, in order to be in line with the ban on smoking in public places that comes into effect from January 1.
In Macau the tobacco tax was last updated in 2009 and is currently set at MOP 0.2 per cigarette or MOP 4 per 20-cigarette pack.
Currently the average price of a cigarette pack is MOP 20, while in Hong Kong it costs up to MOP 50 after a 41.6 percent increase set in June this year.

Local anti-smoking associations and lawmakers were calling for an increase similar to Hong Kong.
“We are very disappointed. We hope that the government will consider matching the tax with Hong Kong because tobacco prices continue to be very cheap in Macau as compared to Hong Kong,” Smoking and Healthy Life Association of Macau director-general Samuel Chan told Macau Daily Times.
Chan does not think the tax increase goal is in line with the new law. He said a bigger raise would be more adequate to protect residents’ health.

“The man is usually the smoker in a family. If he cannot smoke outside, he may start smoking more at home and more second-hand smoke will impact women and children,” he added.
The tobacco tax should be set at 70 percent or more of the retail cost of a packet of cigarettes, according to a goal set by WHO. If the government proposal is passed, the local tobacco tax duty will be only 38 percent of the retail cost, while in Hong Kong it is closer to 70 percent.
The chairman of Hong Kong anti-tobacco pressure group Clear the Air shares Chan’s view. James Middleton said that the increase is “manifestly inadequate”. However he believes that Macau should not follow Hong Kong’s footsteps and look at Singapore instead.

“The retail prices of a packet of 20 cigarettes [Marlboro brand] overseas as of now are: HKD 117 in New York, HKD 94 in Ireland (and increasing next year); HKD 88 in England and increasing in 2012; HKD 85 in Australia (adjusted since they sell in packets of 25) and increasing in 2012; HKD 72 in Singapore for the past four years; and HKD 50 in Hong Kong,” he said.
Middleton urged the Macau Government to set the tax to match Singapore levels. “Adults would still be able to afford it, many would quit and for sure it would put the cost of cigarettes beyond reach of the youth which is the object of excise taxation,” he stressed.
He slammed Macau for having “one of the least effective anti-tobacco laissez-faire attitudes” even though it has the largest casino-betting turnover in the first world.
Thereby Middleton went on to say that the MSAR fails in its duty of caring for the Macau public and youth. “Without replacement smokers [youth] their business is over,” he stressed.

‘Step forward’

WHO’s Mackay said the MOP 6 tax rise is a “good step forward, but still inadequate”. “Everyone working in public health knows that tobacco taxation is the most effective measure in reducing tobacco use among youth. The reason is very simple – it makes them too expensive for youth to purchase.”

“If the Macau government is serious about reducing tobacco use, especially among the young, then tobacco taxes should be regularly and robustly raised. Macau is also, via China, a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Thus it has international obligations in terms of tobacco control legislation and taxation,” she said.

Despite the low increase, the Smoking Abstention and Good Health Association director-general says it is “a very encouraging policy”.
“This is a very good step. On January 1 we will have the new law that will make prevention more effective,” Johnny Au remarked, adding that it will have a significant impact on low-income people and students.

Nonetheless, Au urges the government to keep an open mind for further increases in the future. “We suggest that the government should not revise the law on just one occasion, but from time to time,” he said.
Following the WHO recommendation Au also calls for restrictions on tax-free cigarettes coming from different places.
Speaking to Portuguese-language newspaper Ponto Final, pan-democrat lawmaker Ng Kuok Cheong said the increase is still very low.

macaudailytimes.com

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