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December, 2008:

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

SCMP – Dec 29, 2008

As a non-smoker, I am getting fed up with Anthony Hedley, Judith Mackay, Annelise Connell and the Clear The Air lobby. I have worked in the bar and restaurant business for 25 years, I am not an owner and my lungs and chest are clear.

I am not saying that this is the same for everyone, as everybody’s genes are different, but this is now more like a witch-hunt against smokers.

Yes, smoking can be bad for your health, but why can there not be smoking and non-smoking bars? What has happened to people’s freedoms? Many countries are now looking at ways to help smokers have their own space to smoke in, as they should have. My mother is 80 and still smokes.

Professor Hedley says he is protecting the health of the staff. Does he not realise that most staff in bars smoke and will he find them new employment when some of these bars close down, as has happened since the smoking ban hit Britain?

Forget about statistics, I have many friends in the industry who have lost their businesses, so let’s work together and find a solution for smokers and non-smokers.

K. Stanton, Pok Fu Lam

To the anti-smoking lobby, I say: “Enough, already.”

Either campaign for an outright ban on smoking – make it illegal – or else stop this increasing harassment of an activity which gives pleasure to many. I am not a smoker, but I do enjoy the very occasional cigar and I don’t deny my guests the pleasure of an after-dinner smoke.

After years of bombardment with anti-smoking propaganda, everyone is aware of the risks of smoking. Despite this, many people still exercise their free choice to light up and engage in a perfectly legal activity. As for bars and restaurants, let people decide, not the nanny state. Non-smoking bars and restaurants will gain non-smoking customers. Smoking bars and restaurants will continue to get business from those – smokers or non-smokers – who don’t care. As for staff, they also have a choice. If smoke bothers them, they can work somewhere else.

Anti-smoking campaigners don’t seem to trust people to make up their minds. Seeing people still making a choice to smoke, they react like petulant autocrats.

Markus Shaw, Central

Tobacco Company Downplayed Risks in China, Report Says

RONI CARYN RABIN, The New York Times – December 29, 2008

An international tobacco company vying for the huge Chinese cigarette market took steps to stall public smoking bans in that country by sowing doubt about the known risks of second-hand smoke and diverting attention to other public health issues, a new report claims.

Beginning in the mid ’90s through at least 2002, British American Tobacco downplayed smoking-related disease in China by suggesting air pollution was a greater public health threat than smoking and arguing that the focus should be on what it characterized as China’s top killer, liver disease, the paper said.

The paper’s researchers based their report on an analysis of internal documents obtained from the London-based company in response to litigation. The paper, published in the December issue of the online journal PLoS Medicine, is sprinkled liberally with damning statements drawn from those documents.

In an e-mail, British American Tobacco officials denied they worked to undermine any laws and issued a statement saying that the company “welcomes sensible regulation” and consistently seeks “to engage with regulators to work towards balanced legal frameworks.”

British American Tobacco is very clear about the risks to health associated with smoking,” the statement said.

But researchers said the company’s own documents revealed a complex strategy that used several approaches to make sure smoking-related health issues were put on the back burner of China’s public health agenda.

“Everyone and their mother wants a piece of the Chinese market,” said Monique E. Muggli, the first author of the paper and a nicotine researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “What was unique about China was BAT’s efforts to train the local industry in China on their playbook, causing controversy and doubt around second-hand smoke where none really existed, and targeting the local tobacco industry, which is government owned.”

As recently as 2006, despite two decades of research into the harms of second-hand smoke, China’s State Tobacco Monopoly Association was issuing statements that more research was needed to determine the effects of smoke exposure, she noted.

One of British American Tobacco’s initiatives was to fund the Beijing Liver Foundation, which operated under the auspices of an established charitable organization that BAT considered had an “anti”-smoking agenda. BAT used the liver foundation “to reprioritize the agenda of the Ministry of Public Health” and to “divert the public attention from smoking and health issues to liver diseases,” according to company documents. The foundation was also used as a platform to promote BAT’s message that liver disease, rampant in China, “is the number one killer” there.

In 2000 and 2001, BAT used the liver foundation’s Web site to disseminate the message that second-hand smoke is not harmful, the documents indicate. The foundation funded research on second-hand smoke that dismissed the risks of environmental smoke exposure and convened expert panels to report the findings to the media.

Awareness of the risks of smoking to nonsmokers is particularly low in China, with only about one-third of Chinese citizens aware of the health risks of second-hand smoke, according to Chinese Ministry of Health estimates.

Even though the consensus among most public health experts is that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke exposure, Ms. Muggli said, BAT promoted the use of air filtration and ventilation systems in restaurants, hotels and other public spaces as a “route to avoid smoking bans,” the paper said. The company also pushed for “resocialisation” of smoking, industry code for accommodating smoking and avoiding public smoking bans, according to the report.

Although many cities in China have public smoking bans on the books, the restrictions are not usually enforced, the paper said.

In other presentations to the media, BAT sought to “present the message that tobacco smoke is just one of the sources of air pollution and a very insignificant one compared with other pollutants,” the paper said, quoting from company documents.

The company held “smoking and health seminars” for representatives of China’s state tobacco monopoly, in which it trained them how to convey the message that there is insufficient data to prove that second-hand smoke is harmful to children or other adults, and hence no need for government regulations.

The Chinese cigarette market is dominated by the state tobacco monopoly, but foreign cigarette companies will have more access to China’s 350 million smokers when the country eliminates tariffs on foreign cigarettes and opens up the market in accordance with international trade agreements, according to Teh-wei Hu, a professor at the school of public health at the University of California, Berkeley and an expert on China’s tobacco policy.

About 540 million Chinese are exposed to second-hand smoke each year, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths, experts say.

Start Full Smoking Ban

SCMP – Dec 28, 2008

I am against any delays to the full smoking ban, because the partial ban has not been effective.

I do not believe bar owners will suffer from the ban. Where food is served, the smoke-free environment will attract more diners and even smokers will be willing to refrain from lighting up. Therefore, business will not be adversely affected.

In an environment where people can light up, non-smokers are also exposed to passive smoking.

Therefore, it is essential that the government implement a full ban and I think that it is inevitable. Legislation will also help smokers kick the habit.

Nicole Chan, Tsuen Wan

Should The Full Ban On Smoking Be Delayed?

SCMP – Updated on Dec 27, 2008

I refer to the letter by Deepak Nagrani (Talkback, December 22).

He claims that people are smoking more because of all the restrictions imposed by the government. Judging by official statistics and from my own observations, I would have to disagree.

In fact, I know many people who are smoking less because it is not convenient for them to light up when and where they like. These smokers actually welcome the restrictions because they know that they are doing themselves less harm.

Mr Nagrani’s opinions are selfish and he has not made a single practical alternative to the restrictions put forward by the government.

He describes an office, a bar and a restaurant as more controlled environments. For whom is it more controlled? Does he think it is more restrictive for restaurant and bar staff and the public to be at the mercy of smokers?

On the other hand, while introducing tobacco controls, the government has, at the same time, openly offered support to help smokers quit.

He wonders if the smoking rooms at the airport are the government’s idea of a silent death sentence.

Well, those who choose to contribute to the “gas chamber” environment in the first place have to deal with it.

Moreover, just to put things into perspective, I would like to ask how long Mr Nagrani actually spends in the smoking rooms at the airport, even if he travels a lot. It would be considerably less than the time a non-smoker has to endure during a meal at locations where smoking is still allowed.

I would like to remind Mr Nagrani that smoking itself is a slow “death sentence” so why take along the non-smokers?

Where cigarettes are for sale, it is up to consumers to use them responsibly.

Laws are put in place to protect the “positive” beneficial interests of the public, be they the majority or minority.

H. Harania, Mid-Levels

Should Smoking Rooms Be Allowed?

SCMP – Updated on Dec 27, 2008

I do not support the idea of setting up smoking rooms.

For those who think we should be slightly lenient to smokers in Hong Kong, please take a look at our “new” eating environment.

It is now so common to see people eat and hold cigarettes outside cha chaan tengs [tea cafes] which prohibit indoor smoking. When we walk past, it is difficult to breathe. Smoking rooms will only lead to a deterioration of the already bad air quality.

Without a proper ventilation system, things will only get worse and it is the non-smokers who are made to suffer.

Even if the ventilation system is so well designed that no smoke can escape, these rooms would be very tempting to ex-smokers or to those who are trying to quit this vice. It is likely that the number of smokers would rise again as a result of this hasty decision by the government.

Though many countries, including Germany and Italy, allow smoking rooms, Hong Kong, with seriously suffocating air from vehicles and [the smoke from] Chinese restaurants, should not follow blindly. We have to consider our own situation wisely.

We must not be lured into granting something when it has already been decided that we should get rid of it.

Leung Yuen-lung, Sham Shui Po

Up In Smoke – December 26th, 2008

In six months, the government will lay down the final piece in its smoking-ban puzzle. The staggered anti-smoking legislation—first all indoor workplaces and eateries in January 2007, all bars and nightclubs in July 2009—has caused nothing but confusion and chaos since its passing in 2006. And now comes another problem: do we change tack in light of the financial crisis? Persistent rumors have been saying that the government is going to delay the complete ban, or create other loopholes such as “smoking rooms.”

What with our shrinking economy, many bar owners have said that the complete ban would be disastrous to their business (though they declined to speak to us on record), and several of them have put forward suggestions for either delaying the remainder of the ban or providing the option of smoking rooms. The government’s response was clear: “The concerned industries have been given almost three years for making the transition. [We have] no plans to amend the concerned provisions in the ordinance,” said Li Wan-in, assistant secretary for the Food and Health Bureau. “[We have] not reached any conclusion on the feasibility of smoking rooms,” adding that they expect to complete that study in the first quarter of 2009.

Still, many bar owners insist that they will be disproportionately hurt when the complete ban comes into effect July 1, 2009. But experts believe they are just trying to take advantage of a chaotic situation. “The ban is long overdue,” says Dr. Judith Mackay, director of the Asian consultancy on tobacco control. “A full ban should’ve been introduced from the beginning to create a level playing field. The exemptions have just created confusion, and now some bar owners are taking advantage of that.”

What’s there to take advantage of? It’s hard to tell what kind of logic the bar owners are using: both local and international statistics have proven that they wouldn’t lose out financially. For one thing, a ban would mean immediate savings on fire insurance, property damage and time off for sick workers. And if the exemption has given us one thing, it’s valid receipts: restaurant revenues for the first quarter of 2008 were 30 percent higher than that of the same period in a pre-ban 2006.

Others disagree. The Legco representative for the catering industry, Tommy Cheung, feels that the numbers don’t give an accurate picture. The economy was at a high point in the beginning of 2008, and he says we should look at numbers from the dire last two quarters of this year instead. Because of that fact, he feels strongly that not only should there be an exemption, but that the full ban should be permanently delayed until the crisis is over. “Right now is not the time to do anything drastic or create any hardship for the public,” says Cheung.

Of course, many don’t feel Cheung’s thoughts are in keeping with public opinion, and that his viewpoint has been clouded by financial concerns and missing the real point: public health. When asked how he suggests restaurant and bar workers deal with the unwanted effects of secondhand smoke, he replies simply: “Workers have a choice.” Obviously not everyone agrees.

“How can anyone charged with representing the catering industry press for bar staff to work in a toxic atmosphere?” asks James Middleton, chairman of the anti-tobacco committee of Clear the Air. “Health must always come before business interests.” Facts illustrating the debilitating effects of secondhand smoke are everywhere, but even those in the industry believe the situation is out of hand. “There’s no reason anyone should be subjected to losing their lung capacity because they were working in a bar,” says Mark Joyce, manager of the Pickled Pelican bar on Wyndham Street. “They’re not the highest paid people, so why should they put up with additional health problems?”

And there’s also the law. Hong Kong’s Occupational Health Law specifically states that “every employer must…ensure the safety and health at work of all their employees.” Mackay puts things in an interesting perspective: “If a factory in Kwun Tong had chemical poison in the air, under the government’s laws, there’s a responsibility to shut it down. This is no different.”

So what other option is left for desperate pro-smoking bar owners but a smoking room? Despite the fact that these rooms seem scantly beneficial in terms of health (experiments have proven that it would take tornado-speed winds to remove the carcinogens in one of these rooms), and that they don’t make sense in the current economic crisis (since they will be extremely expensive to install), the government has agreed to conduct a feasibility study on installing the rooms, which is scheduled to be finished sometime in the first quarter of 2009. Even if that study were to suggest the provision of smoking rooms, it’s a hugely expensive option. “You practically have to strip down a building to install a fully ventilated smoking room,” says Mackay.

So expect the ban to kick in fully in 2009. But there is one more problem. Few figures show that smoking has actually declined in the city since the partial ban took effect earlier this year. In fact, the Customs and Excise Department recorded a total of 3.756 billion sticks of duty-paid cigarettes between October 2007 and September 2008, which is an increase of 9.1 percent when compared to the same time period between 2006 and 2007. Many health experts feel that this only points to one thing: follow the lead of the US and UK and raise cigarette taxes.

As part of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Hong Kong is mandated to increase taxes on a regular basis, says Middleton. It hasn’t increased from its current 50 percent of the retail price for eight years. “In the UK, the average tax per pack is £4.33, or 77 percent of the retail price. They also instituted a complete ban in bars and restaurants, and in its first year, 400,000 people quit smoking and sales reduced remarkably.”

As for that option, a feasibility study on raising tobacco taxes has not even begun. Let’s hope the government sees sense and helps us kick the habit once and for all.

by Pavan Shamdasani.

Chinese Man Detained For 3 Days For Smoking On Train

ABC News, Posted Thu Dec 25, 2008

A man has been given three days in detention for breaking a non-smoking rule on a new high-speed rail line, Chinese state media say, an unusually severe punishment in a country where smoking bans are routinely ignored.

He was caught smoking in the toilet just after the train had left Tianjin for Beijing, triggering an alarm and causing the train to stop, the official Xinhua news agency said on its website.

The high-tech line connects the capital with neighbouring Tianjin. It opened in time for this year’s Beijing Olympics and features carriages more luxurious than usual in China, including swivel chairs and spacious, plush interiors.

No-smoking signs and rules are generally given short shrift in China and about half of all Chinese men smoke.

“It is strictly forbidden to smoke on the Beijing-Tianjin Express, and they hope everyone respects the rules, travels in a civilised manner and ensures the train’s safety and punctuality,” Xinhua said.

– Reuters

Tobacco Firm Used Scientist To Subvert Critics In Asia

The Scotsman By MICHAEL CASEY – Published Date: 24 December 2008

AN EDINBURGH University study released yesterday has revealed the tactics used by tobacco companies to “infiltrate” scientific institutes and undermine anti-smoking policies in Asia.

On the website of the Public Library of Science Medicine journal, researcher Jeff Colin at Edinburgh University, along with Ross MacKenzie, another researcher from Sydney University, has alleged that Philip Morris, an American tobacco firm, “planted” a scientist, Roger Walk, to lecture, and organise conferences at the Chulabhorn Institute in Bangkok to play down the effects of passive smoking.

The public health researchers produced their findings by analysing internal industry documents which were made public following legal proceedings in the United States. The report was partly funded by the National Cancer Institute in the US.

Mr MacKenzie said: “They (the tobacco companies] have shown they are willing to take advantage of economic situations and lax legislation in many south-east Asian countries to aggressively market their products.”

However, Marija Sepic, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris International, dismissed the documents as outdated and said the company never hid its affiliation with Mr Walk

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

Peter Crush (Talkback, December 17) continues to make unsubstantiated statements on smoking which need correction.

He says: “Licensed bars and entertainment places are private premises to which customers are invited at a manager’s discretion and are not public places with right of access.”

Bars are only licensed if they possess a general, marine or light refreshment licence and are premises to which the public has access whether paid or by right.

No smoking is allowed in any licensed restaurant unless the premises obtained (farcical) qualified-establishment status.

Mr Crush says: “Nobody disputes that nicotine is an addictive drug and smoking kills, but like it or not, hundreds of millions of people worldwide still choose to smoke.”

This is correct. It is unfortunate he does not realise people smoke because they are addicted to nicotine (see reference), which acts on the brain’s dopamine receptors in the exact same way as heroin and cocaine and hence “choice” is not the main reason. Under occupational health laws, employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure safety and health.

A failure to maintain the workplace in a condition that is safe and without risks to health is an offence. By his own admission smoking (and passive smoking) kills and these bars are unhealthy when smoke is present.

Mr Crush says that governments do not outlaw tobacco, because they do not want to lose tax dollars. However, in 2007 the government received HK$2.8 billion in tobacco taxes.

The actual annual cost of tobacco to Hong Kong’s economy at 1998 rates was HK$5.3 billion in health care and loss of productivity. The cost, when value of life is included, is annually HK$73.32 billion, of which 23 per cent is attributable to passive smoking.

Mr Crush claims that the anti-tobacco lobby is not doing too well. In 1982 there were 23.3 per cent daily smokers here whereas by 2007 it had dropped to 11.8 per cent of the population.

Sadly, due to smoking exemptions, smokers consume 36.5 million more cigarettes per month than in pre-ban 2005-06.

James Middleton, chairman, anti-tobacco committee, Clear the Air


Philip Morris, BAT Sought to Influence Smoking Policy (Update1)

Bloomberg By Simeon Bennett – Dec. 23

Two of the world’s biggest tobacco companies tried to undermine anti-smoking efforts in Asia by seeking to influence health policy in China and scientific research in Thailand, according to two new studies.

British American Tobacco Plc, Europe’s largest cigarette maker, helped form the Beijing Liver Foundation “to reprioritize the agenda of the Ministry of Public Health,” one study said, citing company documents. A senior scientist at Philip Morris International Inc., the world’s biggest cigarette maker, gained a “disturbing” and “inappropriate” influence over teaching at a Bangkok research institute, the second study said.

Smoking could kill 1 billion people this century, 10 times more than in the past 100 years, and is “the single most preventable cause of death,” according to the World Health Organization. The two reports, funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, show how cigarette makers seek to counter anti-smoking measures by forging ties with policymakers and scientists.

“Such links are of great concern to the public health community, which is working hard to reduce deaths and disease due to tobacco,” said the editors of the journal that published the studies, PLoS Medicine, part of the Public Library of Science.

The studies examined the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, a collection of almost 10 million documents produced by tobacco companies in response to litigation in the 1990s.

Companies Respond

“British American Tobacco welcomes sensible regulation and we always seek, wherever possible, to engage with regulators to work towards balanced legal frameworks,” Catherine Armstrong, a London-based BAT spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “Far from undermining laws, we believe our input can mean the laws are workable and realistic and can be implemented effectively.”

The research is being published now because the full collection of documents became available online only this year, Kelley Lee, who participated in the BAT study, said in an e-mail.

“Focusing on decades old documents does nothing to progress the objective of achieving effective and comprehensive regulation of tobacco today,” Marija Sepic, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris in Lausanne, Switzerland, said in an e-mail. “The use of these documents is disingenuous as they do not reflect Philip Morris International’s views today.”

In the first study, Monique Muggli and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, studied reports from London- based BAT, the maker of Dunhill and Lucky Strike brand cigarettes. The company helped form the Beijing Liver Foundation to “reprioritize the agenda of the Ministry of Public Health,” and “to divert the public attention from smoking and health issues to liver diseases” in China, the study says, citing internal reports obtained from BAT.

‘Take Heat Away’

“To focus on liver diseases will take the heat away from anti-smoking and smoking-related issues,” according to a BAT document entitled “Beijing Liver Foundation Report 1999.”

The foundation gave British American Tobacco “a channel to reach our customers” by posting “company positions on smoking and health issues, and balanced views on lung cancer diseases” on its Web site, the study in PLoS Medicine said, citing the same report.

Sixty percent of China’s men smoke, representing one-third of the world’s smokers, a report in the Lancet medical journal said in October.

The second study, led by Ross MacKenzie of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, said Roger Walk, who became director of worldwide scientific affairs at Philip Morris in the 1990s, “influenced the study and teaching of environmental toxicology” at the Bangkok-based Chulabhorn Research Institute, or CRI, which became a partner of the Geneva- based WHO in 2005.

Toxicology Research

Company documents show Walk formed a working relationship in the 1990s with Mathuros Ruchirawat, the institute’s vice president for research, the study said. Walk was offered a teaching position on a postgraduate course about inhalation toxicology in November 1994, and invited to help develop the curriculum for a United Nations-funded toxicology training program in 1996.

“The active and ongoing involvement of industry consultants in curriculum development and the training of future researchers and regulators is particularly disturbing and, in our view, wholly inappropriate,” MacKenzie and colleagues wrote.

Mathuros knew of Walk’s association with Philip Morris, though other CRI scientists probably didn’t, the study said, citing a 1993 fax from Walk to the company’s lawyers.

The study is “full of innuendos and unsupported facts,” Mathuros said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg News. “Walk has never been involved in CRI research and has no influence on CRI research and educational programs. His part- involvement is teaching six hours per year and a very small part of a course. This involvement ceased in 2006.”

Altria Group Inc. spun off Philip Morris International in March, and Walk now works for Altria’s Philip Morris USA unit. Greg Mathe, a spokesman for Altria, had no comment on the study when contacted by Bloomberg News.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Singapore at
Last Updated: December 22, 2008 21:11 EST