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August 3rd, 2008:

Anti-smoking Advert ‘Understates’ Real Costs

Mary Ann Benitez – SCMP | Updated on Aug 03, 2008

A government-funded anti-smoking advocacy group has been criticised for understating the health-related cost of tobacco in its promotional campaign.

The Council on Smoking and Health’s latest radio advertisement, calling on people to quit smoking, is causing concern for anti-smoking lobbyist Clear the Air.

“Smoking costs the Hong Kong economy HK$5.3 billion each year. This is what it costs for the health care, medical expenses and productivity losses,” the advertisement says. “Quit smoking now for a better return.”

The council said the HK$5.3 billion estimate came from a study conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s community medicine department in 2005.

The advertisement was part of the Smoke Free Hong Kong Campaign launched in May.

James Middleton, of Clear the Air, said the council should have used a higher figure which the HKU study had also suggested.

“This selective choice of information for the public service announcement is based on information from a University of Hong Kong research report. [The announcement] needs to be redone to reflect the actual costs to Hong Kong society,” he said.

The widely reported HKU study found that the total cost of active and passive smoking was HK$5.3 billion a year. It took into account the cost of health care, residential care and lost working time.

It also said: “If we add the value of attributable lives lost but deduct productivity loss due to premature death to avoid double counting the value of a lost life, the annual cost would be US$9.4 billion [HK$73.36 billion].

Council chairman Homer Tso Wei-kwok defended the agency’s decision to use the HK$5.3 billion a year health-related cost of smoking because no one could put a value on life.

“Life is priceless. That figure does not take into account the cost of lives. We only talked about the medical and other burdens,” he said, adding it was also the figure mostly used by the media at the time. “We are talking about an advocacy message.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health said it would take 10 more months for the fixed-penalty scheme for smoking offences to be implemented.

The bill was passed on July 2.

From January 1 last year to the end of June this year, the Tobacco Control Office issued 7,322 summonses.