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SCMP: More young children trying smoking according to new survey

from Ada Lee of the SCMP:

Fewer people light up, including teens, but young children are more likely to try cigarettes – prompting education push in kindergartens.

Kindergartens are to become a new front in the battle against smoking after a survey found that while the number of smokers in Hong Kong has fallen to an all-time low, more young children may be taking up the habit.

The government survey of 10,000 households indicated that the proportion of the population that smokes has dropped to 10.7 per cent, from the 23.3 per cent shown in the first survey in 1982.

In 2003, that proportion had declined to 14.4 per cent.

It also found that 0.3 per cent of the Primary Four to Six pupils surveyed, or 410 of them, said they had smoked a cigarette in the 30 days before the survey, compared to 0.2 per cent in the same poll two years ago.

More than 4,000 primary schoolchildren polled said they had smoked – and 1,800 of them said they had done so before the age of seven. But the number of teenagers smoking has fallen.

Undersecretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said children usually started smoking because their parents or people around them were smokers, meaning they could get hold of cigarettes easily.

“It’s important to stop adults around them from smoking, especially at home,” she said.

Tobacco Control Office head Dr Christine Wong Wang said the government would conduct an education campaign with non-government organisations in kindergartens in a bid to prevent young children from smoking.

She said the campaign would be conducted in a lively way, such as conveying the message through songs.

“Children are very powerful,” she said. “Many people quit smoking for their children, and a lot of elderly smokers quit for their grandchildren.”

More than 2,900 of the young children who smoked said they were just experimenting.

The overall smoking rate found in the survey – conducted from September to November last year – indicates there are 645,000 smokers in Hong Kong.

Two-fifths of those smokers are part of the “working population”, aged 30 to 59.

In general, the proportion of smokers aged 15 to 19 years old dropped from 3.8 per cent a decade ago to the current 2 per cent.

The proportion of female smokers aged between 30 and 49 years old increased from 8 per cent in 2010 to 10.7 per cent last year, despite the drop in other age groups.

More than 60 per cent of the smokers surveyed said they had never tried to quit smoking, and more than 85 per cent of these said they had no intention of giving up smoking.

Chan said that the situation in Hong Kong was unique, and could be due to a lack of clear information about the health hazards and incentives to quit.

The survey found 18.8 per cent of former daily smokers said they had quit because tobacco products were too expensive.

Wong noted that the rate was similar to the 19 per cent who quit following advice from health-care professionals.

She said the government would review the effectiveness of current measures, including the existing no-smoking areas and tobacco tax, before making a decision on whether they had to be strengthened.

9 Nov 2013

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