Survey Shows Majority of Hong Kong Citizens Believe Excessive Tax Increases Fuels Black Market Cigarettes

Results highlight the need to continue tackling illicit tobacco trade as a governing priority

Latest survey shows nearly nine in ten Hong Kongers see illicit cigarettes as a problem and believe Government should continue combating the problem, and the majority believes excessive tax increases contributes to the problem. Worryingly, overwhelming majorities of respondents believe that illegal cigarettes are easily accessible to underage children and adults alike. The survey highlights the need for the Government to continue tackling illicit tobacco trade as a priority before considering extreme tax and regulations such as 85% graphic health warnings which could make the problem worse.

“The message is clear. Hong Kongers want tackling black market cigarettes to be a Government priority. It harms the livelihood of grassroots hawkers, contributes to youth smoking, fuels criminal activities and disrupt social order”, said Jeff Herbert, former Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Police and Advisor of Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade (HKUAIT).  

He adds that excessive tax hikes and other extreme tobacco control measures, such as 85% graphic health warning labels, would only make the problem worse. “These measures will not necessarily drive smokers to quit smoking, but will certainly fuel the black market tobacco trade,” added Mr. Herbert.

“Nearly 90% of respondents see black market cigarettes stays as a problem for Hong Kong and believe Government should focus more on combating illicit cigarettes. 68% believe illicit cigarettes are easily accessible to children under 18,” said Janakan Ramalingam, Director of IPSOS. “Most Hong Kongers also see excessive tax increases, insufficient penalty and sophisticated criminal networks as contributing factors to the issue.”

With an aim to measure the public’s view on the illicit tobacco issues in Hong Kong, the survey, which was conducted by international research agency IPSOS and commissioned by HKUAIT, interviewed 1,007 Hong Kong adult citizens in December 2015. Similar surveys were conducted in 2013 and 2014.

The survey results echo the findings of the Asia-16: Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2014 study, conducted by Oxford Economics and published last year, which found that Hong Kong’s illicit cigarettes consumption rate stood at an alarming 28% of all cigarettes consumed in Hong Kong, costing the Government HK$2.5 billion in foregone excise tax revenues.

Ahead of the upcoming Budget Speech, HKUAIT has prepared a formal submission recommending measures to tackle the roots of the illicit trade problem.