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December, 2008:

Documents Offer Look At Big Tobacco’s Asia Tactics

Associated Press By MICHAEL CASEY – Dec 23, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Two of the world’s largest tobacco companies, seeking to expand sales into Asia, worked to undermine anti-smoking policies in Thailand and China by infiltrating one research institute and funding another, researchers said Tuesday.

The allegations — highlighted in two separate studies — come as tobacco companies are aggressively marketing cigarettes in the developing world as lawsuits and anti-smoking laws hit revenues in the West.

“As the high income countries put more and more obstacles in the path of the cigarette companies, they have to look for new markets,” said Edouard Tursan d’Espaignet, epidemiologist with the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative.

Critics said tobacco companies are trying to drum up sales by minimizing the dangers of smoking.

In Thailand, Philip Morris, the world largest cigarette maker, planted a scientist in Chulabhorn Research Institute in Bangkok in a bid to get researchers to shift their attention away from secondhand smoking and toward other forms of air pollution, according to one study. Public health researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Edinburgh produced the study by analyzing internal industry documents made public following litigation in the United States.

A separate study alleges that British American Tobacco, the world’s second-largest firm, provided funding in China for the Beijing Liver Foundation in a campaign to shift focus away from links between smoking and ailments such as liver disease.

Both companies denied the charges presented online in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal. The two studies were partly funded by the National Cancer Institute in the U.S.

However, longtime anti-smoking advocate Stanton Glanz said the tactics are “part of long-running and continuing tactics by the tobacco industry all over the world,” and he called on the two Asian institutions to end their ties with the industry.

Anti-smoking groups say big tobacco for years has sought to covertly influence western government’s smoking policies and squash scientific findings highlighting hazards of smoking.

Now, some charge, the tobacco countries are taking these time-tested tactics to the Asia, Africa and Latin America where the WHO estimates 80 percent of the 8 million tobacco-related deaths will occur by 2030.

The University of Sydney’s Ross MacKenzie, who co-authored the Thai study, said that in Asia, tobacco companies have fought successfully to prevent the publication of ingredients used in their products in Thailand and worked in Cambodia to undermine advertising bans.

“They have shown they are willing to take advantage of economic situations and lax legislation in many Southeast Asian countries to aggressively market their products,” MacKenzie said, citing previously released company documents.

In the Thai study, MacKenzie and University of Edinburgh’s Jeff Collin allege that Philip Morris scientist Roger Walk lectured and organized conferences at the government-funded Chulabhorn from the early 1990s through 2006.

The researchers say this allowed Philip Morris to develop relationships with key officials and scientists in efforts to discount the threat of secondhand smoke.

Spokeswoman Marija Sepic of Switzerland-based Philip Morris International — which was spun off by the Altria Group in the United States earlier this year — dismissed the documents as outdated and said the company never hid its affiliation with Walk.

Walk, who now works for Altria’s Philip Morris USA unit, could not be reached for comment.

Chulabhorn Associate Vice President Jutamaad Satayavivad said the institute was not aware Walk worked for Philip Morris until about a decade into his tenure. After seeing the study, institute officials plan to bar him because he was “not straightforward in sharing with us,” she said.

The other study alleges that London-based British American Tobacco used the Beijing Liver Foundation to lobby China’s Health Ministry in a campaign to forestall smoke-free legislation.

The company also provided training for industry, public officials and the media to spread its message that secondhand smoke was an insignificant source of pollution, it said.

“Despite the tobacco industry’s public efforts to appear socially responsible … there is a fundamental conflict between the interests of tobacco companies and public health,” said the Mayo Clinic’s Monique E. Muggli, who conducted the study with four other researchers.

China’s Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

British American Tobacco spokeswoman Catherine Armstrong said it was illogical to suggest that any link the company has to a medical charity “was an attempt to divert attention away from smoking related disease.”

However, Glanz, a University of California San Fransico professor who has led research into secondhand smoke, said he’s not surprised to hear the studies’ results.

Asia is particularly attractive to tobacco companies because “understanding of the effects of smoking and passive smoking is low,” Glanz said

Smoking Rooms Not Right For HK, Expert Says

Dan Kadison, SCMP – Updated on Dec 22, 2008

A number of Asian and European countries have placed restrictions on smoking but still permit smoking rooms to operate. But University of Hong Kong public health expert Anthony Hedley said this did not mean they would work in Hong Kong.

Deanna Cheung, British American Tobacco’s head of corporate and regulatory affairs for Hong Kong and Macau, said: “Smoking rooms are used in a lot of different countries. There must be some merit in it.

“A smoking room is a way to contain the smoke, and that can create a more comfortable environment for non-smokers to continue to enjoy themselves, whereas smokers can [still] enjoy themselves.

“So that’s accommodating both the interests of the smokers and the non-smokers. To us, that’s a more practical way of doing it instead of a blanket smoking ban.”

Countries where smoking rooms are allowed under certain circumstances include Singapore, Malaysia, France, Germany and Italy. Taiwan also permits them.

“Around the globe, a small number of countries have adopted extreme measures, banning indoor smoking in all work and public places, including age-restricted venues,” BAT said. “We believe such an approach goes too far and the Hong Kong government should not follow suit. In fact, many other countries allow a certain degree of flexibility in their legislation.”

But Professor Hedley said smoking rooms would not protect smokers or stop gases and particulates escaping into outer areas.

“Yes, there are smoking rooms in other countries. That doesn’t mean they’re right,” he said.

“We’re not talking about other countries. We’re talking about Hong Kong. And I think there are many, many reasons we don’t need them here and [why] they won’t work.”

He said users would be exposed to dangerous “ambient fine particulates” even with a ventilation system. Inside the room, “it would be several hundred micrograms per cubic metre above the roadside levels in Central, which we know are extremely poisonous and damaging to health”, he said.

“The street-level pollution pales into insignificance compared with the levels that would be created in a smoking room.”

And non-smokers were at risk as smoke leaked from smoking rooms. “It’s predictable and it can be demonstrated that they [smoking rooms] actually contaminate the surrounding air,” he said.

Bar Owner’s Last-gasp Effort To Avoid The Ban

Dan Kadison, SCMP – Updated on Dec 22, 2008

Standing in a cold, dimly lit and airy room, I did something that could be illegal by the middle of next year – lit up a cigarette in a bar.

Fresh air descended from above into the negatively pressurised enclosure while the fumes twirled out through a ceiling vent and a horizontal vent built into a wall-mounted countertop.

No smoke could be seen drifting out of the room into the main bar area, even with the double doors open.

I was in a smoking room built by a Causeway Bay bar owner and his business partner in an effort to show that such a ventilated enclosure can work.

Eric Wong, owner of 2020 By SK, and Anita To regard it as a last-ditch effort before the extension of the smoking ban to exempted bars on July 1. They have converted a VIP karaoke room at a cost of HK$300,000, with financial help from the Philip Morris tobacco company.

“If [we] don’t try it, [we] die anyway,” said Mr Wong, whose small, stylish bar has been open on the 20th floor of the Bartlock Centre on Yiu Wa Street for five years. The 100 sq ft room can hold more than 10 people and its double doors would never both be open at the same time, as they were when I took my puff.

Mr Wong, who runs nine bars and restaurants in Yiu Wa Street, said he was already feeling the financial squeeze caused by the smoking ban. He is planning to close two upper-floor restaurants in the Bartlock Centre after the Lunar New Year.

Business in both spots had dropped 70 per cent since the first stage of the ban, affecting restaurants and other premises that admit people under 18, went into effect early last year.

A smoking ban for bars would end 2020 By SK’s run, said Mr Wong and Ms To, officers of the Hong Kong Bars and Karaoke Rights Advocacy group.

“Over 85 per cent of our customers are smokers,” said Ms To.

A group of 20 people, including government and trade representatives, looked at the smoking room last month and stood outside as someone puffed away inside the enclosure.

“The overall system is very effective,” said one. “We were standing outside, with both doors open, and we could still barely smell anything from that smoking room.”

Lewis Cheng, project manager for Advance Technology Air Condition Engineering, the company that built the room, said: “We won’t let the client open both doors – just one by one. There’s a buffering area [between the double doors], and an exhaust vent too.”

Before being pumped outside, the dirty air was cleaned by an ionising device, he said.

Smoking Room Study In Final Phase

SCMP, Dan Kadison – Updated on Dec 22, 2008

Little more than six months before the smoking ban is to be enforced in bars and other now-exempted venues, the government is entering the final phase of a study of smoking rooms that may offer bar owners a way around the curbs.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department has almost finished building a trial smoking room, along lines recommended by consultants this year, and tests by the Food and Health Bureau will begin next month, according to a source close to the project.

Bar owners see such rooms as a lifeline, enabling them to retain smoking customers, who according to some account for up to 85 per cent of their patronage.

At least one pub has built its own smoking room with financial help from tobacco giant Philip Morris.

Progress on the trial was outlined in a government paper, obtained by the South China Morning Post.

The Food and Health Bureau, in a September brief written for the food business taskforce of the Business Facilitation Advisory Committee, said its advisers had run computer simulations on the best way to clean the air in a smoking room.

They had decided the test room should be built with a ventilation system that brought fresh air in through the floor and took smoke out through the ceiling. A source familiar with the plan said the department had almost finished the room.

“Experiments will start next month,” the source added. “Quite a number of people should be able to smoke there … it’s a pretty big room.”

Health minister York Chow Yat-ngok announced in 2006 that government-commissioned consultants would consider the viability of smoking rooms.

The study began in August last year – months after the first stage of the smoking ban took effect.

The source said computer modelling had shown that a well-designed smoking room would allow hardly any smoke to escape and next year’s report could support them. “A smoking room can definitely be built,” the source said. “It’s not an impossible mission. It’s how you design it.”

Anti-smoking-campaign leader Anthony Hedley said that the introduction of smoking rooms “would be nothing short of a scandal”.

“To actually start creating these intensive sources of tobacco chemicals inside buildings, inside catering facilities, is madness,” said Professor Hedley, chairman of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

Last month, the commissioned consultants joined a group of government and trade representatives for a tour of two smoking rooms: a HK$300,000 British American Tobacco ventilation showcase in Chai Wan; and a smoking room inside 2020 By SK, a Causeway Bay bar.

The bureau is expected to report its findings to the Legislative Council in the first quarter of next year.

Should The Full Ban On Smoking Be Postponed?

SCMP – Updated on Dec 22, 2008

According to the report “Tougher laws on way for smokers, says health chief” (December 11), our health minister, York Chow Yat-ngok, says he wants to establish a smoke-free city with tougher laws for smokers.

He wants to ban smoking anywhere in Hong Kong except our own homes, as well as increase import taxes on cigarettes.

Why not then just stop the selling of cigarettes in Hong Kong? The government wants to profit from the huge revenue from taxes on cigarette imports as long as smokers kill themselves in private.

Cigarette imports are up by 9.1 per cent this year but Dr Chow says this is not because more people are smoking. How would he know if he does not smoke himself?

I think people are smoking more because of all these restrictions because now, instead of smoking in a controlled environment like their office, a bar or a restaurant, they have to make an effort to go outside so end up smoking twice as much to make up for the inconvenience of having to go out: “Oh, might as well have one more for the road before we go back in.”

There are many other air-pollutant factors in Hong Kong – such as vehicles parked with running engines or restaurant exhaust systems blowing out hot air to the streets – that I don’t see anything being done about.

Has Dr Chow walked past Wellington Street recently? Or maybe it does not bother him while sitting in his chauffeur-driven BMW.

The smoking rooms at Hong Kong airport are a violation of human rights if you ask me.

You want to sell cigarettes all over Hong Kong, but yet you want to put all smokers in a “gas chamber” environment that is probably accelerating the chances of them getting cancer.

With all the space at the airport, the smoking rooms could have been much larger, decorated better and have better ventilation. Is this the government’s idea of a silent “death sentence”?

Smoking is bad for you, but smokers also have the right to have places where they can smoke other than their homes or glass cages.

Leave that choice to us or the owners of bars and restaurants.

Next we will start seeing smoking rooms like you have at the airport all over the city, where it will be the only place you can smoke and slowly be the death of all us smokers.

Thank you, Dr Chow.

Deepak Nagrani, Pok Fu Lam

Just take a look at some of the latest developments in other countries and cities.

On October 27, Atlantic City council, in New Jersey, voted to overturn a smoking ban that took effect in the city’s 11 casinos and revert to a previous arrangement allowing smoking on up to 25 per cent of the casino floor for at least the next year. The revised measure took effect last month.

On October 3, the Swiss parliament adopted a new federal law on “protection from passive smoking”, allowing the setting up of physically separated, clearly marked and well-ventilated rooms called fumoirs for smokers at pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Singapore pubs and bars are allowed to have smoking rooms of not more than 10 per cent of the total floor area since a total smoking ban came into effect in July 2007.

Starting from next year in Taiwan, hotels, restaurants, shopping centres and other entertainment outlets will be allowed to set up smoking rooms of not more than 20 per cent of the total floor area.

In Malaysia, smoking is prohibited in air-conditioned cafes or restaurants, except in a segregated smoking area, consisting of no more than one-third of the total area, with adequate ventilation facilities.

This restriction does not extend to pubs, discos and nightclubs.

In France, cafes, restaurants, clubs and bars are allowed to build smoking rooms of not more than 20 per cent of the total floor space.

Italy is the fourth country in the world to enact a nationwide smoking ban. But independently ventilated smoking rooms are allowed.

These places all have tough tobacco-control measures. Yet they remain flexible in implementation.

To promote social harmony and avoid unnecessary confrontation, the Hong Kong government should also be more flexible and open in considering delaying the smoking ban in bars and pubs as well as other alternative measures to reconcile the preferences of smokers and non-smokers.

Anita To, Wan Chai

Government Tipped To Ban Tobacco Displays In Shops

The Age, Nick Miller – December 22, 2008

THE State Government is expected to ban cigarette retail displays in its Tobacco Control Strategy, due for release today.

A discussion paper released in August revealed the Government was wondering whether to completely ban tobacco retail displays, or restrict them to one square metre.

Under a total ban, no cigarette packets would be allowed to be visible inside or from outside a shop.

They would have to be covered or moved under the counter, though retailers would be allowed to display a price board.

Tobacco signage may go. Photo: Jon Reid

Health insiders yesterday predicted the Government would choose this option, following a similar law enacted last month in NSW. However, a Government spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

Cigarettes are sold at about 11,000 retail outlets in Victoria, which would be given time to redesign their point-of-sale displays before the law came into force.

In NSW, big outlets were to be allowed six months, and smaller shops a year.

Specialist tobacconists were likely to be exempt from the rules.

The strategy also includes extra money for programs to tackle Victoria’s alarmingly high indigenous smoking rates, as reported by The Age two weeks ago.

It is expected to ban smoking in government school grounds and in cars carrying children, and may extend the ban to smoking in a car containing anyone under the age of 18.

Temporary tobacco stands at major events such as the Big Day Out will also be outlawed.

The strategy is part of the Government’s Cancer Action Plan, released last week.

The plan said the tobacco strategy would include “anti-smoking social marketing and new smoking cessation services”, including support for pregnant smokers who wanted to quit.

Total Smoking Ban Is The Only Answer

SCMP – Updated on Dec 21, 2008

As I am one of the many people who have to put up with second-hand smoke every day, I think it is time for the government to impose tougher laws for smokers.

However, I must question the efficacy of Hong Kong’s current and proposed regulations.

Smokers can still be seen lighting up in no-smoking areas. While smoking is banned in certain places, many smokers can still be seen in these areas.

To solve this problem, the government plans a fixed penalty of HK$1,500 for a smoking offence. We have a similar penalty for littering and yet people litter every day and do not get caught.

The creation of smoking areas has a downside. They are outside and so you see a lot of smokers gathered in public outdoor places such as patios, the street, outside restaurants, and parks. The air reeks of smoke, and people near them have to inhale second-hand smoke.

Only by completely banning smoking in Hong Kong will the problem be solved.

Until then, no law can stop smokers from polluting the air and damaging the health of others.

Kimberly Kwan, Quarry Bay

Extension of the anti smoking legislation

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Should The Smoking Ban Be Extended Further?

SCMP – Dec 20, 2008

Although the law prohibiting smoking in indoor public places, including restaurants, is in force, non-smokers are still affected by people lighting up.

You can still smell stale smoke when you are walking around Hong Kong. People are still allowed to smoke outside on the city’s streets. As a pedestrian, you often have to walk past groups of smokers. Given that problems still exist, it is clear that the smoking ban must be extended, because this problem is still adversely affecting the majority of Hong Kong citizens who do not smoke.

I think it would be reasonable to extend a smoking ban to all public areas.

Kaza Chu, Lai Chi Kok

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Dec 19, 2008 – SCMP

We would not need this ban if smoking did not create problems for people.

Smoking does not just affect someone’s health, it also has some effect on the interaction between people.

For example, if I see someone smoking on the street, I always try to walk away from them. I do not want to be exposed to second-hand smoke.

Some people say they smoke because it helps them to relieve stress.

However, there are other ways to reduce stress, other than resorting to an addictive substance.

I am also concerned about the effect smoking has in places like restaurants.

I was in a restaurant one Sunday afternoon in Wan Chai and I noticed a man at the table next to me puffing away on a cigarette while he waited for his meal to arrive. Fortunately, I was able to move, but I found it hard to believe he seemed oblivious to the cloud of toxins he was exhaling.

I think most people have the same negative feelings towards smokers.

It is up to smokers to make healthy choices instead of lighting up. They could join friends in sports activities or go walking.

Alicia Chan, Wan Chai