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Should The Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Updated on Jan 20, 2009 – SCMP

I can understand why P. A. Crush (Talkback, January 10) and Cynthia Henderson (Talkback, January 15) want to try to dismiss my arguments for protection from tobacco smoke as churned statistics, because they would not want this issue to be encumbered with facts.

With more space we could discuss the distribution of the more than 40 tonnes of exhaled and sidestream tobacco smoke in Hong Kong between lungs, furniture, fittings and outdoor air.

In the meantime I am grateful to Mr Crush for his colourful description of one of the consequences of smoking indoors as “yellow filth” which “clings to the walls”. I am confident that a large majority would not regard this as any longer legitimate or want the air space in their building to be threatened by the creation of such a toxic waste dump.

Our parks should be smoke-free for several reasons and Ms Henderson underestimates the impact of tobacco smoke on air quality in the vicinity of smokers. For example, in Finland tobacco smoke particulates in outdoor cafes were 5 to 20 times higher than on pavements of busy streets.

On cruise ships, exposure to cancer-causing tobacco chemicals tripled despite strong wind and unlimited space for dispersion. At the University of Maryland, outdoor tobacco smoke was measurable 7 metres from the source ( .

Ms Henderson does make a strong point about vehicle emissions and we have consistently demonstrated the monetary and health benefits of cleaner air and building railways rather than roads in Hong Kong.

While I certainly regard restriction of private car use as a public health benefit and use public transport whenever possible, Hong Kong’s main traffic polluters are outdated diesels in commercial and public transport which (as Christine Loh Kung-wai points out in her column) the government refuses to regulate on a mandatory rather than voluntary basis (“Silence is not golden”, January 15). Whether my current occasional use of a car amounts to “hypocrisy”, others can decide.

If Ms Henderson wants to campaign for traffic-free zones in Sai Kung or anywhere else I will support her, but she should not be willing to trade off one potent source of pollution for another.

Anthony Hedley, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

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