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January 8th, 2009:

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