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Smoke-free streets has to be next goal

South China Morning Post – 28 Sept. 2011

Breaking records would seem to be part of the Hong Kong psyche, with dozens set over the years for everything from hauling aircraft by hand to the biggest outdoor light show. But when it comes to being a world-beater, becoming the world’s first smoke-free city should be one of our goals. With just 11.1 per cent of people over the age of 15 smoking, we already have the lowest rate in the Asia-Pacific region and what would appear to be the best among developed societies. A single-digit figure and then smoke-free status – a level at which smokers make up 5 per cent or less of the population – have to be our goal.

Smoking rates are declining in most rich parts of the world, but it is thanks to three decades of campaigning by anti-tobacco lobbyists and our government’s attentiveness that Hong Kong’s levels are so low. The ill effects to health of cigarettes and second-hand smoke are well recognised by authorities. That has led to high taxes and bans on smoking in indoor public places. The next steps have to be even better enforcement of laws, more far-reaching advertising to dissuade visitors from smoking and to extend the restrictions to outdoor venues.

We should be proud of what has been achieved. There was a time when smoking was the epitome of cool and glamour. Cigarettes were widely advertised and nothing stood in the way of lighting up in a cinema, restaurant or bus. Fortunately, though, society has learned that health is more important than image and cigarettes are increasingly frowned upon.

But the fight is far from over. Overseas studies show that children are easily influenced, especially by the behaviour of parents and peers. Despite the indoor bans, it is not uncommon to see smoking in some pubs, nightclubs and karaoke bars. Busy shopping districts are still clouded by the cigarette smoke of tourists. Great strides have been made, but no records for low smoking rates will be set unless more effort is put into enforcing laws and making streets smoke-free.

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