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New ads focus on smoking hazards

South China Morning Post – 8 July 2011

TV campaign will be in line with belief of leading anti-tobacco advocates that it’s time tohammer home health risks, after a decade of more subtlety

After a decade pushing a more subtle anti-smoking message, Hong Kong needs to hammer home the health risks of tobacco, campaigners say.

Leading anti-tobacco advocates believe smokers may have become blase about health warnings, and say it is time to refresh memories.

In line with this approach, the government’s Tobacco Control Office will roll out new television advertisements next year focusing on the hazards.

The change of tack comes as the World Health Organisation announced its latest report on tobacco control last night in Uruguay.

This year’s report focuses on anti-tobacco media campaigns. It was revealed that just one-third of the world’s population, or 23 countries, had a nationwide media campaign in the past two years.

Hong Kong-based Professor Judith Mackay, World Lung Foundation senior adviser, said the city was not doing badly. “I think we have done quite well with a balanced spread between legislation, taxation, cessation and informational campaigns,” she said.

Hong Kong’s anti-tobacco campaigns have come a long way. The city is one of the few places in the world to have had health messages planted in television soap operas. In 2009, the tobacco office sponsored episodes of the popular TVB (SEHK: 0511) sitcom Off Pedder. In one episode, main characters urged a colleague to quit the habit and told him where to seek help. No-smoking signs were prominent in the show.

This year, the office will roll out an iPhone app to help smokers quit.

Publicity campaigns in recent years emphasised cessation services. From 2000 to 2006, when the city was debating the indoor smoking ban, the focus was on the harm of passive smoking. In 1995 and 1996, television adverts showed the health risks.

Lisa Lau Man-man, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, said the campaigns developed naturally as the city went through different stages of tobacco control. “Early commercials focused on personal health with stern warnings,” she said. “Now they are more supportive for the increasing number of smokers wanting to quit.”

But she said future campaigns might need to revisit the health warnings. “Smokers are starting to take the health risk messages for granted,” she said. “There is a need to keep reminding them.”

Dr Anne Chee, acting senior medical officer at the tobacco office, agreed. “People have already forgotten about the health hazards of smoking,” she said. “We will launch a TV campaign next year reminding people of that.”

Hongkongers are among 739 million people in 31 countries who enjoy smoke-free indoors. Residents are also among 1 billion people in 19 countries who have cigarette packs with graphic health warnings.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.

Tobacco will kill nearly six million people this year, including 600,000 who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Judith Mackay

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