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March 24th, 2016:

CTA Letter to the Ombudsman on Tobacco Control in Hong Kong

Dear Ombudsman,

So in a nutshell, tobacco control in Hong Kong is in a major dilemma of its own making due to a lack of political will.

The Financial Secretary should stick to playing with food trucks, watching French movies and drinking middle class coffee and make decisions within his sphere of ability.

Generally, that means if he has to spend less on hospital beds and medical treatment by taking simple preventative measures he should have done so already a long time ago instead of pandering to this nauseous lethal industry.

He should be guided by the expertise of COSH, not ignore it and make decisions accordingly.

He is poorly funding an organisation (COSH) with taxpayer money then ignoring their expertise and advice. That is poor Value for Money in any Auditor’s eyes.

He should not have the power of GOD to ignore preventative health measures that he is obliged to follow through, under the FCTC ratified treaty legal international instrument lodged with the UN.

All senior Government officials, Legco members, District Councillors are paid from the public purse. As such they are public servants/officials under the Laws of Hong Kong.

They all have a Duty of Care to the Health, Welfare and well-being of the people of Hong Kong – they do not have a Duty of Care to pander to and act as ‘honorary advisors’ to the Tobacco companies/fronts who are public enemy number 1 who see youth nicotine addiction as ‘growth’.

This deliberate obstinacy borders in Misconduct in Public Office and suggests an ulterior motive for not doing what should be done.

People are dying due to obstinate bad decision making in a sphere of knowledge outside of that individual’s capabilities, or it seems he prefers the tobacco company corporate taxes ahead of such preventative measures?

His only response is to build more hospital beds to house the sick and dying from what is a totally preventable disease source – smoking highly addictive genetically enhanced nicotine tobacco.

Note that COSH has a deputy director of Health who sits on its Board; so the FS is ignoring the Health Bureau and COSH advice by not having excise tax increases above inflation and yearly preventative increases
that will stop youth being addicted to nicotine.

Meanwhile the leadership of the Health Bureau is apathetic, seemingly without political will to stand up to the FS for what is right, and they should be standing up for the rights of citizens and passive smokers to be free from the tobacco scourge.

The Tobacco Control Office is massively understaffed and needs at least 500% its current manpower to operate properly over three shifts and with preventative patrols. That is for you to establish whether the Health Bureau mandated for regular tax increases or has the FS repeatedly denied them? Either way TCO need 5-fold increase to allow patrols. If people cannot go to pubs and smoke as they can now, they will quit. They will not sit at home smoking and avoid socializing with their friends.

The Liquor licensing board is likewise apathetic and has all along the sole legal power to stop smoking in licensed premises immediately or make licensees lose their licences. They chose the wrong option and need castigating.

I sat in Legco having made a presentation and listened to a member of FEHD bleat how tobacco control was not part of her job and hence unwilling to help.

That seems to have carried through.

At the same meeting I asked a senior woman health official how she intended to enforce smoking laws against visitors, especially those from the Mainland, since they have 21 days to pay the ticket, hence will be long gone.

“We will post a demand note to their provided address (Chou En Lai , tin shack, paddy field 17, Wong Pat An village , Hunan)’ was her daft answer.

The flawed Legislation was wrong from the outset but HKG took what it could or the Liberals were going to stretch out even the initial legislation.

The laws need to be amended to put the onus on licensees’ enforcement to create a level playing field for the hospitality industry: immediately TCO would grow by an number of 13,000.

The laws need to cover cigars and pipe tobacco and shisha tobacco – at present only cigarettes have to be tested for tar and nicotine content.

Laws need to be in place to stop smokers crowding around entrances and windows to premises.

Structures with a roof need to be added as non-smoking areas such as the exits of the arrival and departure halls at the airport, since their sides are open, like an escalator (which is legislated).

Non-smoking in OSA garden areas needs legislation – after all the laws were enacted to protect people in the workplace.

Meanwhile why do we not have Plain packaging , larger graphic warnings, vendor licences to sell tobacco, compliance checking, point of display bans ? A good question for the Health Bureau.

With efficiently staffed TCO officers patrolling nightspots and blackspots the police can concentrate on other aspects of their job; with tobacco costing $120 a packet youngsters cannot start smoking, older smokers will quit and blue collar families will have more income for food instead of addiction and passive smoking in the cramped home.

Meanwhile Government should be pursuing a lawsuit against Big Tobacco as in the Master Settlement Lawsuit action in USA. The merchants of death do not have a gangrenous leg to stand on.

The usual worldwide tobacco company mantra ‘ more tax means more smuggling’ is usually applied. Well in Canada the Government arrested tobacco executives for conspiracy to defraud and sent them to jail. It is a known proven and admitted fact in tobacco documents online and director admissions that the tobacco companies smuggle their own products through their loose supply chains to defeat anti tobacco Government measures, addict youth at a cheaper price and importantly to them, enhance their bottom line, no matter at what cost to society.

Yours sincerely,
James Middleton

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Gruesome pictorial warnings could save millions of smokers’ lives

On March 16, 2016, last day of the two sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Duan Tieli, deputy director of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA), also a deputy to the NPC, told the media that China had no plans to increase pictorial warnings on cigarette packages since such photos of smokers’ darkened teeth and rotten lungs or images of skulls were not consistent with “traditional Chinese cultural values.”

Duan may not have known but in 2008, when WHO conducted its third session of signature countries that had signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a great majority of those countries had already passed the resolution that cigarette packages should carry pictorial warnings as required.

Meanwhile, however, a Chinese delegate representing the STMA argued that Chinese cigarette packages can only display pictures of famous mountains and great rivers to reflect traditional Chinese historical and cultural heritage, instead of showing ugly pictures to humiliate and disrespect the Chinese people.

As soon as this remark was made, the speaker was booed off-stage and that night all deputies at the session passed a resolution to give China the Dirty Ashtray Award, stating that China had not supported the requirement of displaying pictorial warnings on cigarette packages and that it had mocked the FCTC rules by showing beautiful pictures at the cost of public health.

Furthermore, by May 2015, 85 countries globally had already adopted the practice of showing pictorial warnings on cigarette packages, including many Asian countries and regions such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, etc. China has been left far behind.

Peng Liyuan, the first lady of China, has made her concerns and commitment for tobacco control public. She became an ambassador for tobacco control in 2009. In 2012, to support World No-Tobacco Day activities, Peng and Bill Gates were dressed in red shirts printed with a slogan against passive smoking. They joined hands to promote the rights of non-smokers and practices for a smoke-free environment.

Actually, displaying pictorial warnings on cigarette packages happens to be the most effective, direct, and expense-saving approach to help smokers quit smoking. This is also required by the FCTC, in order to confront all smokers with a graphic design that discourages smoking.

In March 2009, I attended the 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Mumbai, India. At the site, I was interviewed by reporters and presented my idea at a discussion group session that pictorial warnings would serve three distinct and meaningful purposes, “to discourage smokers from smoking themselves; to make it improper for them to share cigarettes with others; and to render it impossible to use cigarettes as a gift to VIPs, superiors, and others.”

Consequently, the practice of having pictorial warnings on cigarette packages is a must. One thing remains clear and that is the Chinese government and its legislative branch should work together to make this happen and thus deliver urgently needed services to the people to improve their health conditions.

Finally, the STMA, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, should fulfill its mission of tobacco control instead of looking to boost its own profits.

Tobacco control, which benefits China and its people as a whole, deserves a great push immediately and forcefully. Adding pictorial warnings on cigarette packages is a necessity and an effective approach to facilitate the whole process.

The author is a tobacco control specialist and current affairs commentator for CCTV News. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion