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Should The Full Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Updated on Jan 07, 2009 – SCMP

Andy Boulton (Talkback, January 1) exercises his personal choice to smoke and to make comments on anti-smoking campaigners.

He misguidedly compares smoking to alcohol use, where moderate consumption of red wine is proven to prevent heart disease. Alcoholics harm themselves but do not force their drink down the noses and throats of others, as is the case with sidestream smoke, which kills people.

He says: “The tax from tobacco is still a major revenue earner for the Hong Kong government and I believe more than covers the cost to the government of smoking-related illnesses.”

In 2007 the Hong Kong government received HK$2.8 billion in tobacco taxes. The government states that the annual cost of tobacco to Hong Kong’s economy is HK$5.3 billion in health care and loss of productivity. The cost when value of life is included is HK$73.3 billion annually, of which 19 per cent, HK$13.93 billion, is attributable to passive smoking.

Work it out. The government is massively subventing the costs of tobacco on Hong Kong society, and the money could be better used suing Big Tobacco to recover the treatment costs, which has happened elsewhere.

The government mandates the use of seat belts in vehicles, crash helmets on motorcyclists and helmets and safety harnesses on construction sites. It has occupational safety laws for the workplace. Likewise anti-smoking laws are introduced to protect people in the workplace. Mr Boulton ridicules peer-reviewed studies from world experts on the dangers of passive smoking, which even the tobacco companies admit to on their websites.

Smoking kills six times more people in Britain than road traffic accidents, other accidents, poisonings and overdoses, murder and manslaughter, alcoholism, suicide and HIV/Aids. In Hong Kong 7,000 people a year die from smoking-related illness and, of those, more than 1,300 deaths are from passive smoking.

This “personal choice” nicotine addiction takes 14 years off a normal lifetime and kills others besides its addicts. The smoking exemption will end on June 30. People opposed to its cessation must live with it.

James Middleton, chairman, anti-tobacco committee, Clear the Air

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