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Tobacco control efforts targeting young people

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First published: March 5, 2010

Source: HKSAR Government

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (March 3): Question: The Financial Secretary announced a 50% increase in tobacco duty in the Budget for the last financial year. The Secretary for Food and Health later told the media that he hoped that the increase in tobacco duty would encourage smokers, particularly young smokers, to quit smoking, with the aim of reducing the number of smokers by 10% to 20%. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers and percentages, in the past three years, of the people in the groups listed below who smoke, and the average number of cigarettes smoked by each smoker per day, together with a breakdown of such figures by gender:

(i) the population in Hong Kong; (ii) those aged 11 to 18 of the population; and (iii) those aged 10 or below of the population;

(b) whether it knows at which locations and through what channels underage smokers obtain cigarettes; what measures the Government will adopt to prevent them from obtaining cigarettes from those locations and channels, and whether it will increase the penalties for the offence of selling cigarettes to underage persons; and

(c) whether it has analysed the reasons why underage persons smoke; if it has, of the details, and how future anti-smoking promotional strategies will complement accordingly; if it has not, the reasons for that, and whether it will consider conducting such a study?

Reply: President,

(a) According to the Thematic Household Survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department between late 2007 and early 2008, the number of daily smokers aged 15 or above was 676,900 or 11.8% of the population in that age group (male: 20.5%, female: 3.6%).The number of daily smokers aged 15-19 was 10,500 or 2.4% of the population in that age group (male: 3.5%, female: 1.2%).

The daily consumption of cigarettes by smokers aged 15-19 was 9 and 11 in 2005 and 2008 respectively. This Thematic Household Survey also interviewed children aged 10-14.However, due to the small-scale sample size of this age group, as well as problems such as the possibility of unreliable sources of information, and possible under-reporting by respondents, children of this age group were not included in the data analysis of this survey.

(b) and (c) International surveys and studies show that young people can obtain cigarettes through different channels, one of which is purchase from shops. They may also be given cigarettes by their elder family members or friends. Young people also take up smoking for various reasons, including the influence of family members, peers or their social environment. As pointed out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), young people are also highly susceptible to the influence of tobacco promotion and advertising. A study conducted by the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) on the relationship between smoking experience of children and family smoking found that children with smoking family members were more likely to have smoked. Children living with one smoker were 79% more likely to have smoked than those living with non-smokers; and the chance would increase to 424% when there were three or more smokers at home.

According to WHO’s advice on tobacco control policy formulation, a comprehensive and interactive strategy is necessary for any tobacco control policy targeting young people. Such a strategy must include banning all forms of tobacco advertising and promotions, implementing smoke-free workplaces and schools, public places, vehicles and homes, educating youngsters on the risks of nicotine addiction and tobacco use, addressing smoking cessation among all smokers, including youngsters and adults, as well as increasing tobacco prices through taxes and other means. Since young people can still obtain cigarettes from multiple channels including their friends and family, restricting access to cigarettes solely by way of legislation would not produce significant effects. In view of the above, the Government has long been taking a multi-pronged, progressive approach to minimise the harmful effects of tobacco on young people. Measures adopted include publicity and education, provision of smoking cessation services, increase of tobacco duty, and enactment of legislation to ban tobacco advertisements and expand the statutory no smoking areas (to cover all indoor public places, schools, public pleasure grounds, beaches, stadia and restaurants, as well as karaoke clubs, cyber cafes and amusement game centres etc where young people frequently visit).The enforcement of the legislative provisions that prohibit the sale of cigarettes to persons under the age of 18 is also part of the Government’s tobacco control efforts targeting young people. With regard to youth education and publicity, the Tobacco Control Office (TCO) under the Department of Health has produced tailor-made guidelines and display boards for the implementation of tobacco control measures at schools as well as promotional leaflets for young people. The Government also provides funding to non-government organisations such as COSH and the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals to organise anti-smoking activities for children and adolescents. Such activities include smoke-free educational programmes organised in collaboration with primary and secondary school principals and parents, tobacco control education programme featuring “Health Talk” and “Education Theatre” for adolescents to educate students on the hazards of smoking as well as how to resist the temptation of smoking and support a smoke-free environment.

COSH from time to time organised territory-wide large scale education promotional programmes to spread the message of a smoke-free environment, and to educate children on how to protect themselves from the harmful effects of passive smoking. Children and adolescents are the major targets of all these programmes aimed at encouraging them to support a smoke-free environment and life-style. Such programmes include the “Smoke Free Hong Kong Starts with Teens” from 2005 to 2006, the “Smoke-free Environments – Create & Enjoy!” Photo Collection Campaign in 2007 and the “Smoke-free Family” Campaign in 2008. Looking ahead, the Government and COSH will continue to focus on raising the awareness of tobacco’s harmful effects among children and adolescents in conducting education and promotional programmes for this target group. In particular, the promotional efforts will first aim at families by encouraging adults to set a good role model at home in order to reduce the accessibility of tobacco products to children and adolescents. On the enforcement front, tobacco control inspectors conduct frequent inspections at cigarette retail outlets. During inspections, staff of TCO would examine if a sign is displayed to indicate that the sale of cigarettes to young people under the age of 18 is prohibited. They would also explain the statutory requirements to the persons-in-charge and distribute no-smoking labels.

According to the survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department, the percentage of smokers in the 15-19 age group in Hong Kong dropped from 3.5% in 2005 to 2.4% in 2008.This shows that the tobacco control measures aimed at young people have been largely effective. However, we will not be complacent. Continuous and simultaneous efforts in education, law enforcement, taxation and provision of smoking cessation services are essential to preventing young people from smoking. The Government will continue to devote resources to promoting a smoke-free culture, with a view to raising awareness among the youths of the harmful effects of smoking and preventing them from picking up the habit of smoking

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