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December 10th, 2008:

Improve Enforcement of Laws, Says Group

Loretta Fong, SCMP – Updated on Dec 10, 2008

An anti-smoking group has called for the enforcement of tobacco laws to be stepped up after a survey found 73 per cent of outlets sold cigarettes to underage customers.

Restaurants, grocery stores, petrol stations and newspaper stands were identified as the outlets most likely to violate the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance, according to the survey by the Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention. The ordinance bans the sale of tobacco to anyone under 18.

The organisation sent out 1,300 underage customers to try to buy cigarettes at 1,349 outlets. Some 73 per cent were willing to sell cigarettes without asking the customers’ ages.

Thousands Risk Lung Damage in Smoke-filled Restaurants

Paul Mozur, Hong Kong Standard – Wednesday, December 10, 2008

As many as 16,000 employees in 966 locations exempted from the smoking ban are at serious risk of lung and artery damage.

University of Hong Kong chair professor in community medicine Anthony Hedley said yesterday a new study shows the concentration of small particulates at restaurants where smoking is permitted is 300 percent higher than a in a non- smoking restaurant and about 30 times the World Health Organization limits for small particulates.

Employees exposed to this air for periods longer than two-and-a-half years could lose as much as 16 percent of lung function, he said.

“This is very serious. The lungs are being injured and the smoke does damage to arteries, increasing the likelihood of heart disease,” he said. “If nothing changes, people will die because of the conditions in these places.”

The study of 204 non-smoking restaurant staff, completed by Hedley and a team from the HKU School of Public Health, also showed that ventilation at smoking rooms and terraces is not effective.

“Many of the waiters who serviced smoking terraces still had twice the cotinine [an indication of amount of smoke inhaled] of those in restaurants without smoking. It would take a tornado to blow the smoke away from some of these places,” he said.

Sarah McGhee, of the HKU Department of Community Medicine, also stressed reports that revenue would be lost from a complete smoking ban have little supporting evidence.

Hedley expressed regret that legislation left many of the employees affected with few alternatives. He looks forward to June 2009 when exemptions are due to expire.

Most unnerving, he added, was a recent argument from catering and tobacco industries in support of smoking rooms.
“This is a red light and would be a disaster. These rooms are incredibly damaging to people who use them and clean them, and [the rooms] affect the air quality in the vicinity,” he said.

“Hong Kong is dragging its feet. It is time the government stopped trading workers’ health for vested interests.”

Stick By Full Smoke Ban, Urge Academics

Loretta Fong and Nick Gentle, SCMP – Dec 10, 2008

Academics urged the government yesterday not to extend the grace period for full imposition of the smoking ban and not to allow bars to get around it with smoking rooms.

Their call came after a survey showed the lung function of non-smokers working in places where smoking is still allowed had deteriorated compared to those in venues where the ban is already in force.

Anti-smoking campaigner Anthony Hedley described the findings as “very important indicators of harm to current and future health”.

Places such as nightclubs, bars and mahjong parlours, which admit only people over 18, were exempted from the initial phase of the ban that took effect in January in most indoor public venues as well as parks and beaches. The grace period is due to end in the middle of next year.

Bar owners have claimed the ban would be “catastrophic” for their businesses in the shrinking economy and have called for the grace period to be extended or separate smoking rooms to be allowed – a proposal that the government is studying.

In the survey, results of which were released yesterday, University of Hong Kong researchers interviewed 157 non-smoking workers in smoke-free Chinese restaurants and cafes between February and June and compared them to 47 non-smokers who had worked in exempted bars and restaurants for an average of seven years. Interviewees took lung function tests and urine tests for tobacco chemicals. Of those aged 18 to 65, the estimated reduction in their lung function was 14 per cent, while for those aged 30 to 65 it was 22 per cent.

The difference in lung functions for the 18-65 group between exempted and smoke-free venues was 6.3 per cent and for those aged 30 to 65, 10.9 per cent.

Dr Hedley, professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said other scientific studies had shown that damage to the lungs posed “a serious risk for both acute and chronic disease”.

He said reduced lung function was also a strong predictor of reduced life expectancy. Even if workers did not have to serve food and drinks in smoking rooms, he said they still had to clean them and would suffer “additional hits” from “the off-gas from the furniture”.

Professor of public health Lam Tai-hin said people might show no symptoms of early lung problems, but in serious cases would develop breathing difficulties and other ills.

A bar owner said the industry was facing tough times and a complete smoking ban could be catastrophic. “The recession is starting to hit and bars are already beginning to close,” the owner said.

A government spokesman said a report on the feasibility of smoking rooms would be put to the Legislative Council later.