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Crisis No Reason To Delay Smoking Ban

Nov 24, 2008 – Leader

Bars were against the smoking ban when times were good. Unsurprisingly, now that the city is facing a steep economic downturn, they are calling for an extension of their smoking-ban exemption, which will end in the summer. For them, there is never a good time to impose the ban because they are simply against it. They have been given more than two years to prepare for the ban; they have no more excuses not to abide by it when their exemption expires. The authorities should not listen to them this time. Our city deserves a universal ban on smoking in public areas.

Bar operators may appear to have a good argument in these troubled times; it may even sound persuasive to some officials. It is, rightly, the government’s stance to help small and medium-sized businesses wherever possible in this economic climate. The bars are right in saying that many will face tough economic times; some will go under. It is not clear, though, that allowing bars to extend their exemption will help them maintain or improve business. Many restaurateurs were in the same position as bar owners are now when the ban was imposed. Many initially complained about a drop in business from smoking customers. However, they soon saw business return to normal as their establishments attracted non-smoking customers who had previously avoided them. Since there are far more non-smokers than smokers in Hong Kong, bars will attract new patrons even as they lose some old ones.

And there are public health concerns. Doctors now believe there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Authoritative studies, conducted locally and overseas, have shown sharp drops in heart attacks in places where a smoking ban has been imposed. By now, everyone knows the high costs of treating chronic diseases associated with long-term smoking.

Endangering lives for the sake of business is not a sound argument, especially when the business value of allowing customers to smoke is questionable. The city’s smoking ban has undoubtedly saved many lives. But it has only achieved a partial victory in public health because of the exemption. It is time to complete the ban.

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