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Smoking in public leaves even non-smokers in Hong Kong facing serious health risks

Cigarette smoking definitely seems to be on the rise in Hong Kong. I commute to and from work by bus and, of late, the amount of second-hand smoke in the vicinity of bus stops has increased substantially.

There are huge rubbish bins near every bus stop, and people seem to view this as indicating a smoking spot. There have been many instances when I’ve found people smoking while waiting at the bus stops as well. Many times, people simply throw their half-smoked cigarettes in the little receptacle on top of the bins, without stubbing them out. This results in a continuous cloud of cigarette smoke billowing from the many burning stubs on top of the bins.

The other day, I found two schoolchildren hanging around a rubbish bin and one of them was about to surreptitiously pick up one of the burning stubs that someone had tossed away. Kids are, by nature, curious, and burning stubs lying within reach pose the danger of tempting them to try smoking.

Inhaling second-hand smoke is also very harmful and could lead to serious health issues down the line. Humans can be self-indulgent but usually the ill-effects are restricted to that individual. However, when it comes to smoking in public, the ill-effects are not restricted to the smoker. The negative effects of passive smoking has an impact on other people too, an impact that is scientifically proved to be tangible, measurable and, at times, permanent.

Just imposing high tobacco taxes has not really had an impact, as far as pedestrians being forced to inhale second-hand smoke goes. A legal move to increase the size of warnings on the cigarette packs has met with fierce resistance, accompanied by lobbying by tobacco executives and their lawyers.

Many countries have enforced compulsory, graphic health warning signs covering most of the surface area of cigarette packs, along with plain packaging that reduces the effect of branding for drab-looking packs.

The government has laws in place but there needs to be efficient enforcement. When it comes to use of controlled substances like tobacco, there has to be a healthy modicum of respect on the part of users towards the health of non-users, and this is simply not going to be possible as long as effective measures are not enforced.

Gauri Venkitaraman, Lam Tin

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