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January, 2009:

Should The Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Jan 12th 2009 – SCMP

In my view it should not, and this seems to be the view of the majority of correspondents. But we should be looking well beyond July this year.

The current trend will continue: smokers will find fewer and fewer places where they can smoke.

In time, smoking will be banned not only in all public places, but also in private homes; whether smokers like it or not it will happen, eventually.

Some radical thinking has to be done now in order to plan for that future; and the plan must accommodate two facts: first, there are a substantial number of smokers who will never give up; and second, many young people will start to smoke unless they are prevented from doing so.

First, smokers must have somewhere to smoke legitimately; refusal to accept this simple fact is unrealistic.

Smoking rooms in some bars have been suggested by some and rejected by the hardliners.

I have experienced a few smoking rooms at airports (from the outside), some that are unpleasant to be near, others that appear to work reasonably well.

If the demand is there they will be developed to meet the needs of those inside and those who prefer to stay outside.

Second, and more radically, the only way to stop young people from starting to smoke is to make it illegal. Nothing else will work.

Let Hong Kong lead the world by setting a date, maybe the last day of this year, after which it will be illegal to start smoking.

It will be very difficult and probably futile to attempt to prosecute anyone who will be over 18 years of age at the time the legislation comes into force, but very simple to prosecute those under that age at the time.

While many will claim that such a law is discriminatory, others might welcome the legislation as a good reason to resist pressure from their peers.

Peter Robertson, Sai Kung

Taipei Bans All Indoor Smoking

Agence France Presse in Taipei – Updated on Jan 12, 2009

Taiwan yesterday banned smoking in all indoor public places in what campaigners say is a milestone in creating a smoke-free island.

Smoking had previously been banned in hospitals, schools, theatres, libraries, offices and lifts.

Under the new law, it is also banned in hotels, restaurants, karaoke bars and internet cafes.

Those caught lighting up in smoke-free spots will face fines of up to NT$10,000 (HK$2,300).

“The new law is a milestone in making Taiwan a smoke-free country,” said Lin Ching-li, a spokeswoman for the John Tung Foundation, one of the lobby groups behind the campaign.

Airports have closed their smoking rooms and local air carriers are barred from selling cigarettes during flights under the law.

Health authorities estimate that half a million establishments could be affected by the law, which became effective after its 18-month grace period expired. The legislature passed the amended law in June 2007.

The Taipei city government said its inspectors had found that five out of 2,740 public places had failed to post anti-smoking signs at their entrances, for which they could be fined up to NT$50,000.

The law also doubled the “health tax” to NT$500 for every 1,000 cigarettes and 1kg of tobacco and cigars, to raise money for the island’s cash-strapped national health insurance programme.

Authorities hope higher cigarette prices will help curb smoking and reduce related diseases.

Lung cancer has long been a leading cause of death in Taiwan.

Each year, around 20,000 islanders die of the effects of smoking or second-hand smoke.

By 2020, the number of victims could surge to 67,000 yearly, according to the National Health Research Institutes.

There were about five million smokers on the island, it said.

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Jan 10, 2009 – SCMP

A. J. Hedley, Clear the Air and Dr Judith Mackay continue to mislead Hong Kong residents about the comparative dangers of second-hand smoke.

Anti-tobacco crusaders, some of whom depend on promoting these views for their living, love dusting off long-forgotten files to extract meaningless statistics. Did you know for instance that someone once concluded that 67 per cent of all statistics are wrong?

But coming back to Professor Hedley’s “40 tonnes of highly poisonous chemicals” spewed out by Hong Kong’s smokers (Talkback January 8), most of this smoke with its poison never reaches the outside air you and I have to breathe.

It gets deposited in the lungs of smokers or clings to the walls as a yellow filth inside smoking premises. This is the legitimate choice of those who smoke, enter or permit smoking premises.

Smokers are not “compelled” by their addiction to continue smoking as Clear the Air suggests. If this were the case, how is it that thousands of smokers successfully quit each year? Clear the Air has to accept people choose not to give up smoking and this is their right.

I challenge every person who has condemned smokers in these columns to verify that they never travel in a private car in Hong Kong. Since your correspondents are so beholden to statistics, here are some for them.

The University of Tennessee’s Centre for Energy, Transportation and Environment, after years of research, concludes the “personal automobile is the single greatest polluter” and “driving a private car is a typical citizen’s most polluting activity”.

The Calor Gas Company of Britain goes even further and states that by just walking about in the streets of Oxford, for instance, one of Britain’s most traffic-congested and vehicle-emission-polluted cities, you will inhale in one day the equivalent of smoking 60 cigarettes.

So let’s get things into perspective. It is outside air quality that Clear the Air and company should be concerned with, not a few guys who wish to enjoy a cigarette at their own risk in a smoky bar.

Clear the Air has in the past consistently rejected requests to add private cars to the list of polluters. Its committee prefers to attack smokers and “polluting” buses, which provide seating accommodation for 150 passengers.

P. A. Crush, Sha Tin

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Jan 09, 2009 – SCMP

The Hong Kong Cancer Fund wishes to comment on the Talkback letters concerning a delay to the full smoking ban in Hong Kong.

While we recognise personal choice and freedom of individuals, we believe a full smoking ban is in the best interests of the community. Tobacco is the single largest preventable cause of cancer in the world today.

Here in Hong Kong, lung cancer remains the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in our community, with more than 3,600 people dying of this chronic illness every year.

Having spent more than two decades caring for people affected by cancer, we believe it is important to help minimise the burden of cancer in our community. And the ways the government can do this with respect to cancers induced by tobacco use is to protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to smokers to quit, warn people about the dangers of tobacco, raise taxes and enforce bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you or someone you know is living with cancer and in need of help, please call CancerLink Central on 3667 3000 or visit to access free information and professional support.

Sally Lo, chairman, Hong Kong Cancer Fund

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Jan 08, 2009 – SCMP

Markus Shaw (Talkback, January 3) asserts that tobacco is not an environmental problem, but he is badly informed and seriously out of his depth on this issue.

A few minutes on the internet and perusal of previous issues of the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) will reveal the massive consequences for the social, economic and physical environment caused by tobacco smoking, including poverty and harm to wildlife from smokers’ litter. In Hong Kong alone, 850,000 smokers deposit more than 40 tonnes of highly poisonous chemicals annually into our indoor and outdoor air.

He confuses “pleasure” with relief from craving and ignores the fact that the majority of adult smokers were recruited to nicotine addiction well before their 18th birthdays and the rest shortly after. This kills about 50 per cent of them, but the sustainability of tobacco shareholders’ dividends is entirely dependent on recruiting fresh supplies of addicted young people.

The World Health Organisation has made it very clear that the public health approach to this epidemic must be the destruction of brand value. In this regard Mr Shaw’s assessment of “advertising bans”, “high duties” and “health warnings” can also be shown to be seriously flawed, and Hong Kong still has a long way to go in tobacco control under the WHO’s Framework Convention.

Mr Shaw’s argument that people who need jobs in the catering sector should have to “choose” between polluted and clean work environments, despite being harmed either financially or physically, paints a cynical Dickensian scenario. It is a formula for serious inequity in occupational health.

There is nothing “simple” or “fair” for these workers about being exposed to high risks of cancers and heart disease, wittingly or otherwise, and it is now illegal in an increasing number of countries.

What we need is legislation, not more comments about spurious life-threatening “choices”.

Anthony J. Hedley, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Updated on Jan 07, 2009 – SCMP

I think that the full smoking ban should not be delayed.

However, having a few smoking rooms should be allowed. Smoking is harmful to smokers and passive smokers. And people have been given a grace period to get used to the ban.

However, I accept that given the financial crisis, the government should adopt certain measures to try to help bars and restaurants, some of which are struggling to survive.

I think setting up smoking rooms would be a good idea as it could prevent customers being exposed to passive smoking and it would mean bars and restaurants would not lose customers who want to smoke.

However, if such rooms are allowed, there must be strict monitoring of these facilities to ensure that no harmful substances affect customers outside the smoking rooms.

In the long term, I think the government should provide more programmes to help smokers quit, and it should advertise these programmes.

Jacky Chau Tsz-ki, Tsing Yi

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Updated on Jan 07, 2009 – SCMP

I take issue with the twin assertions by Markus Shaw (Talkback, January 3) that “smoking is not an environmental issue” or that it does “not belong in the same debate as air pollution”.

Globally, smoking kills about 5 million people every year and no one has the right to dismiss this as inconsequential; to do so would be inhumane.

Tobacco’s environmental costs include fire damage due to careless smokers; increased cleaning costs; and widespread environmental harm from large-scale deforestation (trees are cut down to cure tobacco), pesticide and fertiliser contamination, and discarded litter. Tobacco’s total economic cost reduces national wealth, gross domestic product, by as much as 3.6 per cent. Smoking causes over a million fires each year, burning down forests and urban property, leading to more than 17,000 deaths, many more injuries, at an estimated global cost of US$27 billion.

In concrete terms, there are 1.4 billion smokers in the world, each discarding cartons, matches, ash and about 20 cigarette ends daily – amounting to more than 20 billion cigarette ends containing carcinogens every single day. About one third of all litter, where litter content has been evaluated, is cigarette litter.

Both indoor and outdoor pollution are serious health, environmental and economic problems that require addressing urgently in Hong Kong.

Dr Judith Mackay, director, Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Updated on Jan 07, 2009 – SCMP

Andy Boulton (Talkback, January 1) exercises his personal choice to smoke and to make comments on anti-smoking campaigners.

He misguidedly compares smoking to alcohol use, where moderate consumption of red wine is proven to prevent heart disease. Alcoholics harm themselves but do not force their drink down the noses and throats of others, as is the case with sidestream smoke, which kills people.

He says: “The tax from tobacco is still a major revenue earner for the Hong Kong government and I believe more than covers the cost to the government of smoking-related illnesses.”

In 2007 the Hong Kong government received HK$2.8 billion in tobacco taxes. The government states that the annual cost of tobacco to Hong Kong’s economy is HK$5.3 billion in health care and loss of productivity. The cost when value of life is included is HK$73.3 billion annually, of which 19 per cent, HK$13.93 billion, is attributable to passive smoking.

Work it out. The government is massively subventing the costs of tobacco on Hong Kong society, and the money could be better used suing Big Tobacco to recover the treatment costs, which has happened elsewhere.

The government mandates the use of seat belts in vehicles, crash helmets on motorcyclists and helmets and safety harnesses on construction sites. It has occupational safety laws for the workplace. Likewise anti-smoking laws are introduced to protect people in the workplace. Mr Boulton ridicules peer-reviewed studies from world experts on the dangers of passive smoking, which even the tobacco companies admit to on their websites.

Smoking kills six times more people in Britain than road traffic accidents, other accidents, poisonings and overdoses, murder and manslaughter, alcoholism, suicide and HIV/Aids. In Hong Kong 7,000 people a year die from smoking-related illness and, of those, more than 1,300 deaths are from passive smoking.

This “personal choice” nicotine addiction takes 14 years off a normal lifetime and kills others besides its addicts. The smoking exemption will end on June 30. People opposed to its cessation must live with it.

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

Schools Need Drastic Measure

Updated on Jan 05, 2009 – SCMP

I refer to the letter by Adam Liu (“Drug tests not the solution”, December 29).

I am a Form Six student and I have never doubted the importance of teenagers’ privacy and other rights.

However, I do feel that the proposed compulsory drugs tests in schools may be the best solution.

Since I was a primary school student I have listened to innumerable talks and have been asked to join activities highlighting the dangers of taking drugs, but still some young people get involved with drugs.

It is the same with smoking.

We attended many talks on the dangers of tobacco, but some of my classmates have been smoking for two or three years.

What schools, the government and other organisations can do to combat this problem, is limited.

Most of my classmates who smoke are influenced by their families especially their parents.

Perhaps drug tests are too stringent and controversial, but this is the most effective way to deal with a worsening situation.

Ricky Wu Wing-kei, Sha Tin

Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Jan 5 2009 – SCMP

Hong Kong is still debating whether or not to extend the smoking ban.

The medical evidence is overwhelming in proving the effects smoking has on people’s health.

It is a filthy habit and you see cigarette butts discarded everywhere – on streets, beaches, even when you go to the countryside.

The problem is that in crowded public places where people are lighting up, non-smokers must endure second-hand smoke and this can adversely affect their health. I worked in an office in Sydney with two compulsive chain-smokers in the mid-1970s and still have a cough because of it.

Chris H. H. Lim, Sydney, Australia