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`Stinky’ taunts push students to kick smokes

Beatrice Siu, The Standard

The number of secondary school students who smoke has fallen dramatically, a study spanning 14 years has revealed.

The University of Hong Kong, which carried out five surveys between 1994 and last year, said the percentage of smoking students peaked in 1999 when it stood at 12.7 percent, falling to 6.9 percent last year.

The smoking rate was based on the number of Secondary One to Five students who had smoked in the 30 days prior to being surveyed. Hong Kong’s 53 percent fall compares favorably with 45 percent in a similar survey in the United States.

Also, the total number of students who had smoked a cigarette, including first-timers and quitters, fell from 28 percent in 1999 to 15.8 percent last year.

HKU department of community medicine assistant professor Daniel Ho Sai-yin said the drop was due to strengthened tobacco control measures introduced in 2007 and the ban on tobacco advertising in 1999.

HKU says the total number of Secondary One to Five smokers is 33,287. “Although the research results indicated that there is a substantial drop in the smoking rate among Secondary One to Five students over the past 10 years, it was still high at 6.9 percent last year,” Ho said.

“This implies the tobacco control policies should be further strengthened in order to reduce the harm which smoking can do to the younger generation.”

The surveys also showed another reason why students were prepared to give up smoking – they were described as “stinky” by classmates.

Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health chairwoman Lisa Lau Man-man suggested the government further increases tobacco taxes to deter youngsters.

HKU School of Public Health director Lam Tai-hing warned that active smoking kills 5,000 to 6,000 people each year and about 1,000 people die from secondhand smoke.

He also said that smoking bans are never enough.

“The government has strengthened the legislation on smoking bans but there are still loopholes,” Lam said.

For example, bar managers will not be prosecuted even if they allow customers to smoke in the premises.”

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