Public support for combating black market cigarettes hits all-time high whilst public perception of its severity dips

A survey conducted by Ipsos Hong Kong Limited (Ipsos), an independent opinion research specialist, reveals that whilst public perception of the black market cigarette problem dipped, a record number of respondents believe that increased government action is necessary to combat the illicit cigarette trade.

“Black market cigarettes cannot be eliminated by simply implementing one measure” said Jeff Herbert, advisor to the Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade (HKUAIT).  “In addition to considering stricter penalties and other measures such as strong minimum sentences, and increasing public education, the Hong Kong Government needs to ensure that it does not implement legislation such as drastic tax increases or excessive health warnings as international experience shows that these regulations could possibly reverse the downward trend of illicit cigarettes in Hong Kong.”

According to the latest Oxford Economics “Asia Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2015″ report, illicit cigarettes contributed to 29.1% of total cigarette consumption.  However, while still accounting for nearly 1 in 3 cigarettes consumed in Hong Kong, the illicit cigarette trend has seen a gradual decline since recording at 35.9% in 2012.

In an Ipsos survey released today, Ipsos Director Mick Gordon highlighted that “the findings clearly show that approximately 3 in 4 respondents believe drastic increases in tobacco duty, insufficient penalties and sophisticated criminal networks contribute to the problem of illicit cigarettes in Hong Kong”.  

“Tobacco duty revision rates, while important, is not the only regulatory measure that should be approached cautiously”, Jeff warns.  “As a matter of principle, HKUAIT agrees that tobacco duty needs to be revised periodically.  However, any increase should take into account prevailing social and economic conditions, reflected in the Government’s annual Consumer Price Index report”.

In May last year, the Food and Health Bureau issued a letter notifying selected stakeholders that it plans on pushing ahead with a legislative proposal that increases the size of health warnings on tobacco products from 50% to 85%.  

“This legislative proposal is particularly worrying because we can foresee the direct effect it has on the illicit tobacco trade”, adds Patrick Wong, Executive Director of HKUAIT.  Several stakeholders, including HKUAIT, have argued that the illicit trade of cigarettes will further proliferate if the proposed 85% graphic health warning is implemented alongside a requirement to insert tar and nicotine levels on side panels.  Viewed together, available space for tobacco manufacturers to print security and authentication features is further reduced, resulting in a less secure supply chain and an environment that facilitates illicit trade.

The 85% health warning debate continues at the Legislative Council’s Panel on Health Services (Panel).  Members of the public are invited to submit their views online (up to 10 January 2017).  A special meeting of the Panel to discuss this issue has been scheduled for 17 January 2017.

This survey was commissioned by HKUAIT and conducted by Ipsos in December 2016.  More than a thousand Hong Kong adult citizens participated in this survey.  Over the last 4 years, HKUAIT has commissioned similar surveys to gauge the public’s perception of the illicit cigarette problem and how it may affect the lives of Hong Kong citizens.

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