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August, 2009:

Movie posters with smokers criticized by John Tung group

By Jimmy Chuang

NO SMOKERS: The group said it had received many complaints from parents about movie posters on display in MRT stations that show actors smoking

The John Tung Foundation urged the Government Information Office (GIO) yesterday to ban movie posters that show characters holding cigarettes.

“These kinds of posters should not be displayed in public locations, especially when there are a lot of teenagers on summer vacation,” said Lin Ching-li (林清麗), head of the foundation’s Tobacco Hazard Prevention Section.

Lin said the foundation has received a lot of complaints recently from parents about movie posters in major MRT stations that show actors posing with cigarettes, including the French movie Coco Before Chanel.


The parents said they were worried the posters sent the wrong message — that smoking was cool and fashionable — and could mislead young people.

Such posters violate Article 22 of the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防治法), the foundation said as it urged the GIO to ban them.

It said Article 22 states that “TV shows, drama performances, concerts or professional sports occasions should not encourage or emphasize the image of smoking.”


The foundation said the Coco Before Chanel poster was altered in the UK to show the actress holding a pen instead of a cigarette, while in Hong Kong the cigarette was simply eliminated.

In France, the poster was banned from display at Paris subway stations.

Lin said that it was understandable that some movie scripts required actors to smoke, but he said such behavior should not be encouraged.

“At our MRT stations, more than 100,000 commuters would have a chance to such posters and you never know what kind of influence these posters will have on our children,” Lin said.

Thailand: Street Wise: Smokers have reason to be worried sick

Achara Deboonme – The Nation

Since its establishment in 2001, the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation has done an extraordinary job of discouraging smoking in the Kingdom.

Warning labels featuring graphic images of the possible consequences of smoking have been placed on cigarette packages. Though Canada lays claim to being the first country in the world to adopt such mandatory warning images on cigarette packages, Thailand has not lagged on this front.

Malaysia only required the placement of graphic images on cigarette packs on January 1.

In Thailand, a variety of warnings with graphic, disturbing images of the results of tobacco-related illnesses (including a tracheotomy – a tube surgically placed in the throat to allow breathing – and a smoker’s rotting teeth) are placed prominently on cigarette packages.

A recent study showed that the warnings made Thai smokers think more often about the health risks of smoking, and about quitting smoking.

The Tobacco Consumption Control Law has been strengthened. Gone are the days when smokers could light up freely in bus stations, restaurants and entertainment venues.

So it’s not surprising to learn that, according to Mahidol University’s research centre, the number of smokers in Thailand fell from 11.7 million in 1991 to 9.54 million in 2006.

Many give the credit for these successes to Prakit Vathisathokit, secretary-general of the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation.

The bad news for smokers is that Prakit, who retired from the civil service years ago, is determined to be on the scene for a long time, despite his advancing years. Though smokers are annoyed by the growing number of strict controls on their habit, many more are planned, he said.

“The rules are strictly enforced in Bangkok, but many smokers in the provinces are not aware of them. I still have a lot to do,” he said.

And Prakit appears physically fit enough to continue with his plans. During an interview with Nation Group editors, Prakit said he keeps himself fit by walking.

“Now, I walk up the stairs every time to the meeting room, which is on the 34th floor,” he said, laughing. “It takes me 15 minutes to get there.”

Sad to say, Prakit will probably still be on the job long after some smokers have developed and succumbed to illnesses caused by their habit.

Is enough being done to police the smoking ban?


The government has passed laws to prevent smoking in all workplaces, including establishments that previously had exemptions.

Overseas, where similar bans have been implemented, the onus is on licensees to prevent smoking on their premises or lose their licences. This is not the case here, therefore they choose not to act.

Unlike in overseas jurisdictions, there are no demarcated non-smoking zones outside the entrances of buildings, restaurants and bars.

The Tobacco Control Office is 90 per cent understaffed. It is ludicrous to expect 85 officers, soon to be 99, to cover Hong Kong on three shifts. They need at least 1,000 to patrol entertainment areas, while the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and other government servants will enforce parks, markets and playing fields from September.

Clear the Air has been accompanying a film crew around Hong Kong entertainment areas. Smoking is blatantly continuing in ground-level bars, condoned by licensees. Upstairs bars and mahjong parlours are worse.

Those premises enforcing the ban see crowds of smokers outside their entrances blocking pavements.

Bars and tables are placed illegally on the pavements, and bar staff serve patrons illegally on the pavements while passers-by are forced to walk in the road to get past the toxic smoke, the revellers and cigarette butts.

These laws are intended to protect employees in the workplace. All they have achieved is to move the problem mostly from indoors to outdoors.

Passive smoking kills 111 people per month, and the government deliberately allows the situation to continue with minuscule enforcement. And flawed licensee liability laws mean they are not legally obliged to enforce the ban.

James Middleton, chairman, anti- tobacco committee, Clear the Air

The smoking ban was extended to nightclubs and other entertainment venues last month. However, some people are questioning its effectiveness (“Many feel free to flout smoke ban”, August 1).

It would appear that individuals are continuing to smoke in some venues, such as bars, in contravention of the law.

I suspect that some bar owners, if they cannot get smokers to stop, just decide not to bother trying. If the government does not do something about this, the problem will only get worse and we will witness an increasing number of smokers flouting the law.

I would like to see more smoke detectors installed in nightclubs, which would prevent people from lighting up.

I welcome the new legislation. In spite of the problems, you do see fewer people smoking, so there is less exposure to second-hand smoke.

Ella Chan Ho-chi, Hung Hom

Gary Brand (Talkback, August 5) provides an excellent summary of the reasons why there should be both public and commercial observance of the smoking ban. It will be good for business and for the health of employees and customers.

The threat of civil disobedience was a prominent part of the shroud-waving by opponents of the tobacco control bill.

This was led by the tobacco industry, a relatively small clique in the catering industry and some legislators.

It is time that all lawmakers came out with a clear and unambiguous declaration that there are no grounds for defiance of the law and that rigorous penalties should be applied to those who facilitate defiance of it.

In other countries it is law-breaking that threatens landlords’ livelihoods, not smoke-free policies.

Anthony Hedley, School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong

‘I want to quit one day… but not because of the ban

Amy Nip, Austin Chiu and Dan Kadison – SCMP

Smokers are banned from having a puff inside entertainment venues, but that has not been enough to make them quit the habit.

Smoker Michael Chow said lax implementation of the ban at bars had given him “an excuse” not to stop smoking.

Lighting up a cigarette in a Central bar after midnight, Mr Chow spoke of repeated attempts to quit smoking.

He said he returned to Hong Kong from Canada a few years ago, after that country imposed a smoking ban.

When Hong Kong announced its ban, he said, he felt it was the right time to quit.

“I still want to quit one day … but I would do it for my own benefit, not because of the smoking ban in bars.”

Man Cheung, who was also smoking inside a pub, said he was under the impression that staff at the Tobacco Control Office “did not dare go check pubs located upstairs”.

“I was in a bar in Causeway Bay last month when a few tobacco control officers arrived. But they did not go into the bar to check out whether there were people smoking. They simply handed out anti-smoking leaflets to the owner,” he said.

One patron at Delaney’s Irish pub, Mike Galvin, 46, who works in Shenzhen, said he had just found out about the ban this week and was not happy about it.

“All the ban is doing is putting … people out of work,” he said. “You’re destroying the tourist industry in Hong Kong. And you’re making people obviously unhappy. So what’s the point?”

In Tsim Sha Tsui, a female smoker was standing outside the Pelican Bay Beachside Bar, an Observatory Court watering hole close to Knutsford Terrace.

The 33-year-old insurance consultant, who would only identify herself as Wong, said she found it inconvenient to walk outside a bar to have a cigarette, but still did so.

Tobacco Control Office staff had been visiting establishments since June to promote the smoke-free message, an office spokesman said. They had distributed leaflets and stickers to managers and owners so they could help promote the cause.

“All qualified establishments, whether they are situated upstairs, on street level or in the basement, are visited,” he said.

Japan’s smoking habit runs into court challenge

By YURI KAGEYAMA, The Associated Press

YOKOHAMA (AP) One plaintiff is a cancer patient. Another is represented by his widow. The third has emphysema and rolls into the Yokohama District Court in a wheelchair with tubes trailing out of his nose.

Listen up: Emphysema patient Masanobu Mizuno appeals to passersby in June outside the Yokohama District Court. AP PHOTO

The three people are waging a minnow-vs.-whale battle against Big Tobacco in one of the world’s most smoker-friendly countries.

Precedent suggests they will lose, but they hope their suit will at least draw attention to the dangers of smoking.

Even if they win, they’re unlikely to dent the finances of Japan Tobacco Inc., a former monopoly still half-owned by the government. The three are asking for a total of ¥30 million from a company with ¥6.8 trillion a year in sales.

Their larger goal, they say, is to gain stronger curbs on tobacco, and legal and social acceptance of a notion that much of the world now takes for granted: that smoking makes you sick.

They have a long way to go. There’s little of the concerted discouragement of smoking that has gained momentum in the West. Few bars and restaurants ban smoking. Only last year, to curb smoking among children, did the taspo smart card become necessary to buy cigarettes from a vending machine.

A pack of 20 usually costs ¥300, less than a third of New York prices, and about 60 percent of it is tax.

Other countries print dire health warnings in bold letters and add pictures of dead babies, gangrenous feet and crumbling teeth. Here, in small print, they say: “Smoking can be one of the causes for lung cancer.”

Secondhand smoke? “Tobacco smoke has a harmful effect on people around you, especially infants, children and the elderly. When smoking, please be careful of those around you,” the warnings say.

Japan Tobacco officials still flatly deny passive smoking is a problem, arguing that the dangers come from burning cigarettes left in an ashtray — not secondhand fumes.

The corporation has argued in the Yokohama District Court that it has no case to answer because smokers are free to quit anytime, smoking is legal and cancer has multiple causes. It’s the same defense that gained it victory the last time it was taken to court, in 2003.

The current case began in January 2005. Since then, coplaintiff Kenichi Morishita has died of pneumonia and bacterial infection at age 75, leaving 67-year-old cancer patient Koreyoshi Takahashi, who has one lung, and Masanobu Mizuno, the emphysema patient, a former mechanic who is also 67 and smoked from age 15 to 51.

With final arguments over, the ruling is slated for Jan. 20.

Although the case has attracted little media attention, there are signs that even Japan is beginning to kick the habit.

Among adult males, the number of smokers has been falling and now stands at 39.4 percent compared with about 24 percent in the U.S., according to the health ministry and the American Lung Association.

Cigarette ads no longer appear on TV, although Japan Tobacco gets on the air with ads that discourage tossing butts on the street or in trash cans.

There are more smoke-free cabs and areas on train platforms. Some communities have passed ordinances allowing small fines for smoking on streets.

Smoke-free bars and restaurants are enough of a novelty to have spawned a backlash against “smoker-bashing.”

In April, a major restaurant chain opened Cafe Tobacco, a Tokyo coffee shop billing itself as a haven for smokers. It has proven popular among customers such as 28-year-old Kousuke Kishi, who takes his coffee with a Marlboro Light.

“I don’t want to live an extra year or two by giving up what I love to do,” said Kishi, 28, manager at a consultancy.

The lawsuit demands sterner warning labels on cigarettes, a ban on cigarette vending machines, and an acknowledgment that smoking is addictive and harmful.

“When I began smoking, about 80 percent of men were smokers,” Mizuno said. “The advertising phrase was, ‘You’re healthy when a cigarette tastes so good.’ ”

In the U.S., President Barack Obama has signed a law empowering the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, and while that, too, got little attention in the Japanese media, Obama’s own struggle to quit smoking has been an inspiration to Mizuno.
“Times have really changed,” he said. “The people’s victory is near.”

China urges to stop screen smoking

CATC wants to take glamour out of habit


HONG KONG — China is urging industryites to stop showing smoking onscreen to take the glamour out of the deadly habit in a country that is home to one in three of the world’s smokers.

Xu Guihua, deputy director of the Chinese Assn. on Tobacco Control, a Beijing-based nongovernmental organization, said a lack of legislation means smoking is still shown in TV series and films, both home-produced and imported.

Of 144 hit movies from 2004 to 2009, 66 of which were imported, about 69% contain tobacco-related scenes such as people smoking a cigarette or cigar, a study by the CATC and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Chen Kaige’s biopic of opera star Mei Lanfang, “Forever Enthralled,” ranked highest with 14.3 minutes of smoking, nearly 12% of the movie.

As in the West, the research showed that young people ages 13 to 18 were much more likely to be influenced by onscreen smokers to take up the habit themselves.

Sometimes a smoking scene is inevitable because the real-life characters, such as Chairman Mao Zedong, were smokers.

However, the study found that the habit could be left out of 70% of movies because it has nothing to do with the plot.

Is enough being done to police the smoking ban?


That the press can so easily find smokers in violation of the law means those who are meant to police the ban have failed (“Many feel free to flout smoking ban”, August 1).

What is more troubling, however, is the degree to which the new law is being speciously blamed for the trouble pubs and massage and mahjong parlours say they are in – that they are on the verge of closing as a result of the smoking ban.

More likely, these businesses were teetering on the edge of profitability to begin with.

Publicans in just about every jurisdiction around the world that has enacted a similar ban, including those with storied drinking cultures such as Ireland and Australia, actually saw business improve once the air was cleared in their venues.

That is because the handful of smokers who stopped going out when they could no longer light up were replaced by many more non-smokers who had been forced to stay away from the toxic air.

I suspect we would have seen a similar transition here, had Hong Kong enacted its anti-smoking laws with a less protracted timetable.

The local economy of 18 months ago was a lot healthier.

Therein lies a valuable lesson to be learned by lawmakers and those who persist in postponing social progress.

Gary Brand, Mid-Levels

Mahjong halls flouting ban


Out of the five mahjong parlours that I play at in Sham Shui Po, all but one is still full of smokers ruining my lungs and my clothes with cigarette smoke.

Staff continue to give out free cigarettes and even help players light them. I have complained to the Tobacco Control Office, but the problem is still there, a month after the smoking ban began.

I have personally given up on the office because it does not have enough enforcement officers to effectively implement the law.

Instead, I hope that the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (Tela) can help out. The Tela commissioner is empowered under the Gambling Ordinance to cancel any mahjong parlour licence anytime “he considers that the public interest so requires”.

It appears to me that where a mahjong parlour wilfully turns a blind eye or actively assists in behaviour that contravenes a law within its premises, the commissioner is entitled to cancel that establishment’s licence in the public interest.

I hope the commissioner acts on complaints against mahjong parlours that participate in or ignore such activities within their premises.

William Yip, Sham Shui Po

Up to the government to make smoking ban work


Hongkongers are known for being resourceful and innovative, so it comes as no surprise our city’s smokers lost no time adapting to the extension of the smoking ban to bars and entertainment venues. In as little time as it takes to light up, they found ways around the ban by moving to upstairs or out-of-the-way bars prepared to tolerate them, or even standing in a street-front bar with one foot on the pavement, blowing cigarette smoke outwards.

If just some of them get tired of it and give up smoking, and fewer young people take it up, then from a community health point of view, the long fight to bring in the ban in the face of opposition from licensees will have been worth it. The prospect of a fixed HK$1,500 fine on offending smokers that begins next month should help.

There is, however, a need for the ban to be better enforced. Bar owners should not tolerate the breaking of the law on their premises and they certainly should not facilitate it. But they are not held legally responsible if their customers choose to smoke. It is therefore unrealistic to expect them to ensure the ban is strictly observed. This can only be done by stepping up monitoring by inspectors.

Bars, pubs and massage and mahjong parlours are struggling to adapt, according to the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association, with business down 20 to 40 per cent in bars and clubs, by a third in mahjong parlours and by half in massage parlours. As a result, more than 30 bars will likely close, it says. But it is difficult to know how much of this is attributable to the smoking ban, given that many businesses are suffering during the economic downturn.

Those prepared to stick it out may well find that their concerns about the ban are premature. For every smoker, there are three non-smokers. No one knows how many non-smokers – consciously or not – bypassed bars and clubs to avoid second-hand smoke for health or aesthetic reasons, or because their friends preferred to socialise elsewhere. The priority, though, is protecting public health. The ban must be effectively enforced if that is to be achieved.

Up to 40 pubs may close, massage and mahjong parlours also suffer

Amy Nip, Austin Chiu and Dan Kadison – SCMP

More than 30 bars are on the verge of closing as a result of the ban on smoking in entertainment venues, according to the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association. Massage and mahjong parlours have also been hit hard, the industry says.

Business at bars and pubs had dropped 20 per cent to 40 per cent since the smoking ban came into force, the association said.

Business at massage parlours had halved, according to associations representing the sector. Most mahjong parlour operators interviewed said their business was down by about a third.

Some 30 or 40 bars, out of a total of 800 in the city, could close in the near future, Hong Kong Bar and Club Association vice-chairman Chin Chun-wing said. Up to 10 bar owners had sold their businesses recently.

While some smokers said they now preferred going to upstairs pubs – some of which are turning a blind eye to the ban – Mr Chin said others had simply stopped going to bars.

Charlie Chair Sai-sui, a 25-year veteran of the industry and operator of the Schooner Pub & Karaoke in Tsim Sha Tsui, said he was making a loss of about HK$30,000 a month in an industry that was experiencing a “bloodbath”.

At Delaney’s Irish pub in Tsim Sha Tsui, general manager Colin Williams said it was too early to judge the smoking ban’s effect, as “July is notoriously bad anyway”. He estimated receipts had dropped 5 per cent because daytime customers were no longer stopping by for a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

Other patrons, however, were now bringing their children to the pub and that was helping offset losses. Also, evening customers, mostly overseas visitors, were “used to these [smoking] bans already”, he said.

Chow Chun-yu, chief executive of the Hong Kong Licensed Massage Association, said customers would rather go to mainland parlours because they could smoke there.

A supervisor at the Tai Sam Yuen mahjong parlour in Sham Shui Po said the smoking ban had been more damaging to the business than the global economic crisis. It had caused business to fall by a fifth and the parlour could close at any time.

And a general manager at mahjong parlour operator KC City said business at her eight parlours was down 40 per cent compared to July last year. Four-fifths of customers were smokers, she said.

But James Middleton, chairman of Hong Kong-based Clear The Air’s anti-tobacco committee, said smoking bans had not hurt the catering industry in other countries.

Overall, till receipts in places that had enforced smoking bans had stayed the same or, in most places, risen by 5 per cent to 12 per cent, he said. Hong Kong had seen “the biggest up” in business, even with a partial ban, of any city, he said.

“Restaurant turnover [in Hong Kong] has increased 29 per cent since before the ban,” Mr Middleton said. “And restaurant turnover here includes bars … of 7,000 licensed premises, [only] 1,000 applied for an exemption [from the smoking ban] and were granted an exemption.”

One reason for the increase was that Hong Kong families were able to bring their young children to the smoke-free establishments, he said.