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August 7th, 2009:

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.”