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Cigarette Consumption Up Despite Smoking Ban in Hong Kong

Smokers puff 12m more each month after ban

Cigarette consumption up despite limit on smoking areas

Scarlett Chiang and Mary Ann Benitez – SCMP Jan 02, 2008

A year after the smoking ban was introduced in most public places, more than 12 million more cigarettes a month are being smoked in the city.

According to the Customs and Excise Department, the city consumed an average of about 289.67 million cigarettes per month last year, or about 14.5 million packs, while the average monthly consumption in 2006 was 277.65 million. Census figures for the end of 2006 showed the city had about 840,000 smokers.

Medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki said the increase showed the smoking ban was not motivating people to quit smoking. “I think the smoking ban can prevent second-hand smoke in public places,” he said, “but to motivate people to quit, the government still has a long way to go.”

Anti-smoking campaigner James Middleton of Clear the Air said the partial smoking ban had “no chance of success as long as [people] can continue to smoke in bars and restaurants that are granted these pathetic deferral exemptions”.

Mr Middleton said it was “business as usual for the tobacco companies and smokers alike”.

But the Tobacco Control Office insisted the ban was working.

Smoking is not allowed in indoor workplaces, restaurants, sports stadiums, parks and playgrounds or on beaches. But six types of establishments, including bars, nightclubs and mahjong parlours, have been given exemptions until June 30, 2009.

Anthony Hedley, chair professor of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said the city’s growing population could account for the rising figures but added that so long as the prices of cigarettes stayed low, consumption would remain high.

“The price of cigarette and tobacco duty has not increased for seven years,” he said.

“The low price is the biggest driver of consumption. I am convinced this is because of long-term negotiations between the government and tobacco companies.”

The Tobacco Control Office has issued 3,360 summonses, including 998 at amusement game centres, 565 at food premises, 336 at markets, 315 at shops, 259 in shopping malls, 236 in parks, 139 on backstairs and 512 at other indoor public places.

As of November 30, about 1,300 people had been convicted, paying fines from HK$50 to HK$1,500.

Christine Wong Wang, head of the Tobacco Control Office, said: “The majority of the public, including some smokers, have shown appreciation of the statutory smoking ban, and voluntary compliance remains by and large the established norm.”

Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades vice-chairman Lock Kwok-on said restaurant business was hurt in the first six months of the ban but had steadied as customers became accustomed to it and more considerate in the second half of the year.

Many customers now were willing to step outside to smoke when told of the ban.

Dr Wong said the main aim of the ban was to protect people from second-hand smoke, but it may also have motivated more smokers to quit.

A smoking cessation hotline (1833183) set up by the Department of Health to counsel smokers had handled at least 5,800 calls since January last year – about 70 per cent higher than the previous year, she said.

But Dr Kwok said the department’s promotions were not enough to counter increased tobacco marketing towards teenagers since the introduction of the ban.

“A tobacco company will offer free delivery if you buy only two packages,” he said.

“Who needs delivery services to buy two packages of cigarettes? It must be targeting teenagers who cannot get them in a shop.”

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