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Higher Taxes And Horror Tactics Do Not Deter Student Smokers

SCMP – Feb 20, 2009

If action groups and the government want to make a difference regarding smoking in Hong Kong then they need to address it at the grass-roots level.

Most people start smoking in their teens, because it is seen as being rebellious and cool. The tradition in schools of showing biological “horror videos” simply does not work. This is because teenagers genuinely think they are invincible. It is the arrogance of youth – it will never happen to me. Instead, why doesn’t the government work with some psychologists and biologists to get across the age-old principle of the need to look and smell good? Go into schools with heavy smokers’ clothes or bottle a smoker’s breath and let teenagers smell how disgusting that is and then imagine what it would be like to kiss it.

Next is the “social crutch” factor of smokers in their 20s and 30s. People who go out a lot will not care about an increase in tobacco tax and whether they have to spend HK$30 or HK$40 on a packet of cigarettes. Why do they smoke? They feel naked without a cigarette in their hands. It is something to hold and smokers always congregate. As I said it is a social crutch. It would be worthwhile getting the message across to this group of people that their hangover feels a lot worse when they smoke. When you just have a hangover it can clear up pretty quickly. But if you smoke 40 cigarettes during an evening out your lungs and mouth have to deal with it for the whole of the next day. It definitely makes your hangover much worse.

The last target group would be the long-time smokers. In the present economic climate with jobs being lost, many people in this category can no longer afford to smoke but continue to do so, because of the stress they feel. Some of them might be influenced by an increase in tax once they realise that they are spending around HK$11,000 a year on cigarettes. However, with this group of smokers the most important thing to do is help them give up and make them realise that there are better ways of fighting stress than smoking.

Smoking action groups, university departments, and the government must work together to address the root causes of smoking, rather than raise taxes.

K. Russell, Happy Valley

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