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2008 Hong Kong Government Budget

Chance To Cut Tobacco Sales Squandered 

Feb 29, 2008 – SCMP

Wednesday’s budget was a shocking indirect declaration from the government that it does not care about the health of our society.

Firstly, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, failed to raise tobacco taxes, now for the eighth year in a row, making these taxes less than any other developed country. Had he doubled the tax rate, in order to be closer to the World Health Organisation guidelines, the government would have sent a message that it wants to reduce youth smoking by 32 per cent. There is a direct correlation between the reduction in smoking uptake rates and the price of cigarettes. Similarly, it would have resulted in an estimated drop of 20 per cent in adult smokers, and would have generated HK$2.5 billion in new revenue which could have been used for health, welfare and the environment.

In fact, failure to raise the price of tobacco is a direct contravention under the terms and conditions of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. China is a signatory to this framework, and our government is obliged to follow this doctrine. Our own Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, director-general of the WHO, said that “this is now one of the most widely supported treaties in the history of the United Nations. This is primary prevention at its best”.

Secondly, the government’s plan to subsidise electricity rates by HK$1,800 per household is a move that blatantly snubs the environment and runs counter to our leadership’s moral obligations to protect it. This sends the message that consumers can use even more electricity and not worry about conservation, efficiency or price impacts which should come with a properly-designed electricity pricing system based on peak demands. One would be hard-pressed to find any administration in the world today that would dare to be seen to encourage more energy consumption. Instead, these funds could have been used to create a modern, forward-looking energy policy.

The budget has demonstrated that the government has little consideration for our health. It is thus not hard to understand why our air quality objectives have not been revised in 20 years. The government’s failure to uphold its civic obligations has now further eroded its ability to convey trust. This confidence is greatly needed in order for our community to believe that something is being done to improve our environment.

Douglas Woodring, chairman, environmental committee, American Chamber of Commerce

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