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Activists advocate tougher laws to close loopholes on lighting up

Dan Kadison – SCMP

Even with the smoking ban going into full effect this week, anti-smoking advocates say there is still a lot more work to be done in the city.

First, the smoking ban was not completely effective, said James Middleton, chairman of the anti-tobacco committee Clear the Air. “I think overall most Hong Kong people are law-abiding and will comply.”

Still, the government needs more tobacco control inspectors, a law to ban smoking at venue entrances and outside seating areas and fines for landlords.

“At the moment, there’s no onus on the landlord,” he said. “They don’t put the legal onus on the landlord.”

The burden was on the person smoking – and it would be the locals who would face the brunt of the penalties, as tourists can fly out before paying their fines, he said.

“[Preventing] smoking in cars is probably the next thing that must happen, especially with children present,” Mr Middleton said. “They’ve done tests in the UK which show that the contents of the car, even with the window open, are up to 100 times more toxic than in a bar.”

Smoking in condominiums had also been targeted in other cities, he said.

Where should people smoke then? “Dig a hole in the ground and then they’re ready to go when they’re dead,” he replied.

Anthony Hedley, chairman of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said the government should institute an annual “progressive tax hike” on cigarettes and close a loophole which allows tobacco companies to advertise on products such as watches.

“There are many other issues. There’s a long shopping list. Just to name one is the point-of-ale advertisements. We’ve still got faulty legislation at that level,” he said. “I was in Thailand recently and their point-of -sale registration is very effective. You can’t display cigarettes front-of-house in a 7-Eleven or any other shop. They have to be covered up.”

One government official said he had a “wish list” of his own. Ronald Lam Man-kin is the head of the Tobacco Control Office.
“We are trying, of course, to strive for a smoke-free environment,” he said. “So the next step forward may include, for the protection of children, forbidding smoking in cars or putting in place some smoke-free movie [content] restrictions. But that’s just a wish list.”

Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, said Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Mongolia were doing well with their anti-smoking measures, but more steps had to be taken. “I tend to rejoice in the fact that we have got this far because I remember what it used to be like.”

Shops should sell cigarettes in plain brown packs and Hong Kong should understand its obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, she added.

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