The government health service has set a target of reducing the number of ratio of smokers to total population from 10 percent to single digit because the health issues related to smoking is seen to have added greatly to the cost of health care.
Other than raising cigarette tax as it has done numerous times before, there seems to be little else the government can do. In addition, it has stepped up its publicity campaign to warn the public of the health hazard of smoking. But such efforts are sounding more and more like broken records to which nobody is willing to pay much attention.
Raising the tax further is becoming increasingly socially unacceptable because the tax is adding an unbearable financial burden particularly on the many elderly smokers with little, or no income who are either unwilling or unable to give up the habit.
The myriad health issues associated with smoking is widely considered to be an unnecessary and avoidable public health care cost. But further increasing the tax rate from the current high level is meaningless. It would only lead to an increase in cigarette smuggling and a more active black market.
There could be a better way to cut down on cigarette consumption with the legalization of e-cigarette. For years, the health authorities have maintained that e-cigarettes can harm the smoker as much as the real thing.
That may be so. But one of the major objection to cigarette smoking is the harmful effect to people nearby. E-cigarette doesn’t pose that problem because it emits only harmless vapor.
But the government’s may have relaxed its objection to e-cigarette. The health committee of the Legislative Council is scheduled to review the ban on e-cigarette and related substitutes next week.
An Italian manufacturer of a cigarette substitute HEETS has submitted a document to the Legco committee calling on the relaxation rules, arguing that its product, which is sold in 30 countries around the world, is less harmful to the user than real cigarette. It also noted that many people in Hong Kong are already using its product although it cannot be imported legally through the property channel.
Hong Kong has done as much as many other cities in discouraging smoking. It’s time it tries something new.