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End Of Duty-Free Tobacco Can Curb Smoking

Updated on May 31, 2008 – SCMP

Today is the World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day. This year’s theme is to press for a tobacco-free younger generation.

Most smokers start on their habit before they reach 18, leading to a lifetime’s tobacco dependence. Smoking tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world. Regular smokers shorten their own lives, on average, by 15 years.

The smoking habit kills between a third to a half of all users eventually. Youngsters do not think of that when they start smoking. The diseases caused by smoking generally surface only later in life so have little deterrent effect on the young. In the last century 100 million people died of smoking-caused diseases, my own father being among them. These diseases include emphysema, cardiovascular diseases, and lung and mouth cancers.

The current global death rate from tobacco-related health problems is thought to be about 10,000 people a day.

Most smokers are feeding an addiction to nicotine and feel bad if they do not continue doing so.

It is not only smokers who are putting themselves at risk from their habit. Those in the vicinity of smokers, the so-called passive smokers, can also be killed.

Two-thirds of the world’s smokers live in only 10 countries, led by China, India, Indonesia and Japan.

I have seen many schoolchildren smoking in Hong Kong on the way home from school.

Clearly more needs to be done to alert them to the grim reality of the severe damage they are doing to their bodies.

It would be appropriate to abolish the duty-free allowances on tobacco products.

The government loses out twice by these duty-free allowances – by the loss of tax on those sales and later by covering the medical costs of the many smokers who end up in hospital. Tobacco products should be priced at a prohibitively high rate, to deter use and especially to deter young people from smoking. Schoolchildren should not be able to afford to buy cigarettes.

We also need to regulate to get smokers away from the open frontages of restaurants and bars, where their exhalations poison the air for others.

Today’s older generation should make every effort to limit the incidence of tobacco dependence in the young and the measures I have proposed can be a start in that direction.

For how much longer can it be thought acceptable to have 10,000 deaths from smoking each and every day?

Paul Surtees, Mid-Levels

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