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January 24th, 2009:

Should The Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Updated on Jan 24, 2009 – SCMP

Your correspondents Michael Pieper and Anthony Hedley (Talkback, January 14 and 20) and columnist Christine Loh Kung-wai (“Silence is not golden”, January 15) are misinformed if they believe that only drivers of diesel-powered commercial vehicles and buses are the main culprits responsible for Hong Kong’s atrocious roadside air pollution readings.

I must take issue with their suggestion that petrol-powered cars (or even hybrids) do not emit poisonous gases and particulates in significant quantities.

Fine particulates from petrol engine exhausts may not be as easily visible to the naked eye as the black sooty smoke churned out by old and poorly maintained diesel engines, but these particulates are even more likely to be inhaled and end up deeply embedded in our lungs.

That petrol engines produce greater concentrations of poisonous gases (volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide) than diesels is not even disputed by scientists. And have your correspondents never heard of a car driver’s contribution to global warming?

Our most traffic-congested areas are usually Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, and it is no coincidence that these are the districts with the highest levels of roadside air pollution.

These are also the very areas with the highest concentrations of private cars, exacerbating the congestion and slowing down other vehicles.

Unless we wish to shut down all commerce, we have to accept that goods vehicles and buses are needed in these areas, but we do not need so many private cars on the streets there. The public transport system is adequate.

If we removed most of the private cars from downtown areas and the cross-harbour tunnels, we could relieve a considerable part of traffic congestion – and this would lower the pollution from diesel trucks and buses that are forced to idle or crawl in slow-moving traffic.

The “near empty” buses some of your correspondents complain about would carry more passengers and the increased fare revenue would then permit the bus companies to upgrade to buses with improved emission standards much earlier.

Private car drivers are contributing more to outside air pollution than any smoker.

Other contributors to these columns have used the word “hypocrisy” for car drivers who think otherwise. I can think of no better description myself.

P. A. Crush, Sha Tin