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Activists want cigarette packs to lose allure


Striking boxes and smart lettering must give way to drab colours and graphic warnings, local groups say

Jennifer Cheng and Christy Choi
May 31, 2012
Fancy colours and lettering on cigarette packs should become a thing of the past to discourage smoking, local concern groups said yesterday to promote today’s World No Tobacco Day.

The Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, along with University of Hong Kong academics and public experts, joined forces yesterday to call for plain packaging “in order to prohibit tobacco companies from promoting sales through fancy designs on cigarette packs”. World No Tobacco Day is promoted by the World Health Organisation.

Tobacco advertising is illegal in Hong Kong. At least half of every cigarette pack’s front and back side must be used for a pictorial health warning, but the tobacco firms can design the rest of the box.

Plain packaging would prevent tobacco brands from displaying trademarks, graphics and logos, and require at least 75 per cent of the box to be used for a shocking pictorial health warning. The hotline for a service to help kick the habit would be prominently displayed, font styles and sizes for all brands would be identical, and the background would be the same, drab colour: Australia chose a dull, unappealing green.

So far, Australia is the only country to have adopted plain packaging, which it will enforce starting in December. The tobacco industry has launched several legal actions against the measure.

Hong Kong could expect the same legal challenges if it adopted a similar law, said Lisa Lau Man-man, chairman of the non-profit Council on Smoking and Health. Industry retaliation would not be low-key, she said, but this only proved that it recognised the threat of plain packaging to its business.

Although Hong Kong has one of the lowest numbers of smokers globally, there were still 657,000 in the city as of 2010 – the last year for which figures are available. Half of smokers will die of tobacco-related illnesses, the WHO warns.

The Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health said it would do some research on how best to guide the government in implementing plain packaging.

Fiona Sharkie, executive director of Quit Victoria – who played an active role in pushing plain packaging in Australia – said: “The pack is a mini billboard that says something about the smoker and who they are. Plain packaging would remove the allure of a pink, round-edged box designed to appeal to women, or brightly coloured boxes for children.”

Many smokers supported the measure, she said. “I’ve never met a smoker who has wanted their children to start smoking, and if plain packaging can stop children from starting smoking, then it’s worth it.”

Lee Mer, convenor of Hong Kong’s I Smoke Alliance, said: “They want to dress the cigarettes like they’re going to a funeral.”

Lau said the council had written to chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying, urging him to push for plain packaging. But a spokeswoman for Leung said no letter had been received, and would not comment on the issue.

Description: Judith Mackay (left), T.H.Lam, Lisa Lau and Fiona Sharkie promote plain packaging at the Council on Smoking and Health's office.

Description: Harry's view

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