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Plain punch call in smokes fight

Hong Kong Standard – 8 July 2011

The SAR has won top marks for its anti-tobacco strategy in the latest World Health Organization global report, released last night.

But it still has to lead the way in Asia for plain cigarette packaging to reduce tobacco use and cut its “deadly toll,” the UN health agency said.

Hong Kong was a pioneer in graphic health warnings, which were introduced in 2006 – a year after the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was ratified by more than 170 nations.

The third WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic or MPOWER3 – a report card on how countries implement the convention – was released in Montevideo, Uruguay.

MPOWER refers to six measures: “Monitor tobacco use, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to quit tobacco use, warn about the dangers of tobacco, enforce bans on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes.”

WHO Tobacco Free Initiative director Douglas Bettcher said that, since the last report in 2009, “the big picture is unchanged.”

“Having killed 100 million people during the 20th century, the [tobacco] epidemic could kill up to 1 billion during the 21st,” he said.

Statistics for Hong Kong are issued together with those for China, as the territory is not a UN member-state.

But the WHO Western Pacific Region said data show that Hong Kong has the lowest prevalence rates for smoking in the region.

Its male smoking prevalence of 20.8 percent compares favorably for instance to the mainland, where the figure is 52.9 percent.

With tobacco duty hikes, the cost of cigarettes has increased to HK$50, which is comparable to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

In the Western Pacific, the only places that carry graphic health warnings on packets are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mongolia and Singapore.

Regional director Shin Young-soo said: “People have a fundamental right to information about the harm that tobacco does. And countries have an obligation to provide it.”

Asia and the Pacific have more than 480 million smokers and the “world’s fastest growth of smoking uptake among women.”

The agency called on Hong Kong to implement plain packaging, ban point-of-sale advertising, extend smoking bans to alfresco dining, roadside public transport stops and building entrances, and continue to hike prices and taxes.

Hong Kong-based doctor Judith Mackay, senior adviser to the World Lung Foundation/ Bloomberg Initiative, said the territory “has not done badly overall.”

“Since 2009 we have had two significant tax increases, the tidying up of the smoke-free ban … and a ban on duty free cigarettes, plus far more assistance with quitting,” she said. “This is about as good as any place has done.”

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