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Doc tipped for health job keen to stub out smokes

Mary Ann Benitez

Friday, June 01, 2012

A former senior executive at the Hospital Authority tipped for the post of health minister in the next administration said he favors tobacco control initiatives.

Ko Wing-man, a core supporter of Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-yingduring his election campaign and who helped map out Leung’s health plans, said yesterday society is now more receptive to such moves.

“As a doctor and as chairman of the Hong Kong Cancer Society, I would support any initiative to help eliminate tobacco,” he told The Standard on World No Tobacco Day.

That comes as anti-smoking advocates – who called on Leung to take a proactive stance in mandating plain cigarette packaging to save lives – said they have finally got confirmation that his office received their submission.

Experts estimate that the health costs of smoking are a staggering HK$5.3 billion a year – equivalent to the Department of Health’s budget for 2012.

When asked if he is in favor of plain packaging for cigarettes, Ko, however, said he would not go into the details of the initiatives he supports.

Plain packaging would require legislation. Cigarettes and other tobacco products would then come in packs featuring standardized colors and fonts for brand names. A quit line could be added and health warnings – including pictorial ones – made larger.

Ko, an orthopedic surgeon, is not a smoker. He said the community has changed since he was a medical student at the University of Hong Kong in the late 1970s and early 80s when smoking was the norm rather than the exception.

“At that time it was very strange, even our professors were smokers themselves,” Ko said.

“But times have changed and the community now understands the harm of tobacco not only to himself or herself but other people around them.”

Ko has been chairman of the cancer society since 2005.

He took on the role after resigning as the authority’s director of professional services and human resources the previous year in the aftermath of the government’s much-criticized handling of the SARS outbreak in 2003.

World Lung Foundation senior adviser Judith Mackay, meanwhile, said she had got an e-mail from the Office of the Chief Executive-elect saying a group submission has been received.

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