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Tourists don’t get smoking message

South China Morning Post – 29 August 2011

Of all the statistics that should make us feel good, those showing that Hong Kong’s smoking rate has fallen to the lowest-ever level are the ones most likely to put an extra spring in our step. The Census and Statistics Department’s latest figures reveal that 11.1 per cent of people aged 15 and over and 19.9 per cent of men smoke, among the lowest levels for developed economies. Better still, the rates are for last year and do not take into account trends since an additional 41.5 per cent tax was imposed on tobacco products in February. Progress is clearly being made.

Smoking, despite the serious impact it has on health, is not the easiest habit to kick. Left to our own devices, rates here would in all likelihood be nearer those on the mainland, where six in 10 people smoke. A number of government anti-smoking policies over the years, starting with tax increases, advertising bans, health warnings on packets and expanded to banning smoking in indoor public areas, are largely what it has taken to make smokers quit. Such measures are necessary as smoking and second-hand smoke are bad for health. Our next target has to be a single-digit figure.

Efforts are also needed on the mainland. There are anti-smoking laws there, but they are so poorly followed and enforced that it is near impossible to avoid clouds of second-hand smoke. With 60,000 mainlanders crossing the border each day to visit Hong Kong, what is working so well here is increasingly being strained. As our rules do not apply to outdoor areas, busy shopping districts at street level often are shrouded in cigarette smoke.

That sends the wrong message to our children and is dangerous to health. While our laws will go some way to educating visitors, they are not going to have an immediate impact. The next stage of the government’s campaign will be television advertisements focusing on blunt messages. That is a worthy strategy, but widening it to places frequented by tourists would make it considerably stronger.

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