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Quit-Smoking Option Expenses Spelled Out

May Chan – Jun 28, 2008 – SCMP

A Democratic lawmaker’s proposal to offer smoking offenders a quit course would require the government to pay half the cost of treatment, the Food and Health Bureau says.

Andrew Cheng Kar-foo made the suggestion last week in an amendment to the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance as the Legislative Council considered a government plan to introduce a HK$1,500 fixed penalty for offenders.

The current penalty provides only for offenders to be summonsed to court, where they may be fined up to HK$5,000 – but usually the amount is just a fraction of that.

Mr Cheng said smokers should have a choice of either paying the fixed penalty or paying for a course on quitting.

But in a letter to Legco, the bureau said the average cost of a 12-week course was about HK$3,000.

If a fifth of the projected number of fined smokers opted for the course, the government would have to budget an extra HK$2.8 million. And in the interest of fairness, HK$2.9 million would be needed to subsidise smokers who voluntarily attended cessation clinics.

It may also have to pay HK$13 million to set up four extra clinics.

Overall, Mr Cheng’s proposal would cost HK$18.7 million a year.

The bureau estimates there will be 8,000 prosecutions this year, but if the fine is introduced it estimates total number of smokers penalised this year will rise 20 per cent to 9,600.

Mr Cheng said he was worried that his proposal – due to go before a Legco bills committee on Wednesday – might not even be discussed because of the costs stated in the letter.

He reiterated that if illegal smokers were allowed the option, it would save expenses on medical services.

“Even if I don’t put forward this proposal, the government is still responsible for increasing expenditures on smoking cessation services,” Mr Cheng said.

The smoking ban, covering some designated outdoor areas and all indoor public areas, came into force on January 1 last year.

A total of 5,929 summonses were issued from January 1 last year to April 30 this year for breaches.

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