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May 25th, 2015:

Hong Kong must better enforce laws that safeguard public health

The deaths of a non-smoking colleague and his non-smoking wife from lung cancer, and diagnoses of advanced lung cancer in four non-smoking friends, prompted a medical practitioner to write a letter that appeared on this page last week. He implored the government to ban smoking in the street and remove rubbish bins that serve as ashtrays. That is to say, if smoking was not to blame for these cases, passive smoking of undispersed tobacco fumes had to be a suspect.

This prompts questions about enforcement of laws against smoking in public – and, indeed, enforcement of many laws that regulate our freedoms for the greater good. It so happens that the day before we published the letter we took a look at 10 of the most common of these laws and figures for enforcement.

The anti-smoking law was one of two against public habits implicated in community health problems. The other was the idling engine law, which is blamed for unacceptable levels of roadside pollution. The ban on smoking in indoor public spaces resulted in more than 8,000 penalty notices last year, or more than 150 a week. As a public health measure it would be more effective if venues were not exempt from punishment and the ban were imposed in busy pedestrian thoroughfares.

Enforcement officers timed 1,127 vehicles with idling engines last year, but issued only 46 fixed penalty notices. Clearly, breaches of the idling limit of three minutes within a 60-minute period are not easily established, or so open to dispute that officers may not feel encouraged to try very hard.

Police ticketed almost 1.2 million parking offenders last year and prosecuted more than 20,000 pedestrians for road safety offences such as jaywalking, and environment officers fined nearly 29,000 litterbugs in the year to March 31.

These laws are well accepted. In the cases of the idling engine and smoking laws, vested interests opposed to them can be the only ones happy with the enforcement figures. For the sake of public health, the government should review their operation with a view to making them more effective.

Track and Trace: Approaches in Tobacco

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ITIC: A Foundation Directly Sponsored by Transnational Tobacco Companies

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Smoking gun of tobacco smuggling

An EU scheme that puts big tobacco firms in charge of monitoring counterfeit tobacco smuggling is about to be renewed, despite the same companies launching a court challenge to a new EU-wide system on tracking and tracing. Governments lose huge sums in tax in smuggling operations but the companies declared that just 0.5% of seized shipments in 2012 were theirs and not counterfeits.

Independent MEP Nessa Childers says the companies should not be involved in any way after courts finding them guilty of a global scheme of smuggling, fixing prices, bribing officials, and trading with terrorists. The monitoring agreements lapse next year and Ms Childers says the “farce” should end now.

World Customs Organization (WCO) memoranda of understanding with the tobacco industry

A representative of the World Customs Organization (WCO) spoke about WCO’s mandate and regional structure. WCO’s expertise in a number of matters addressed in the Protocol was pointed out. In response to a request from a Party, WCO confirmed that it does not have a policy supporting or encouraging the conclusion of memoranda of understanding between the tobacco industry and countries’ customs services.

The World Bank cooperates with the Convention Secretariat in advising Parties which have undertaken needs assessments to strengthen their tax policies to contribute to improving the health status of their populations.