Smoking rate hits historic low level

Updated: 2011-08-25 06:29

By Guo Jiaxue (HK Edition)

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Smoking rate in Hong Kong hit a historic low of 11.1 percent in 2010, the Tobacco Control Office of the Department of Health said on Wednesday, reporting that smokers accounted for only 11.1 percent of the population in 2010, despite a slight increase in smoking among youngsters aged 15 to 19.

About 675,000 persons in the city, age 15 or above, were smokers, said Raymond Ho Lei-ming, head of the office.

The figure is based on a survey released by the Census and Statistics Department earlier on Wednesday.

The rate is the lowest recorded since 1982, Ho said.

There had been a general downward trend in smoking over the past 30 years, he said.

The survey also showed the smoking rate among men had dropped below 20 percent, to 19.9 percent, for the first time.

The average daily cigarette consumption also declined, falling from 13.9 cigarettes a day in 2009 to 13.4 in the latest survey, Ho said.

Still, the office voiced concern for a slight increase in smoking among young people aged 15 to 19, which rose from 1.8 percent in 2009 to 2.5 percent in 2010.

Ho said he cannot explain the reason, but he noted the two surveys in 2009 and 2010 used different methodologies, which may have affected results.

Chairman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health Lisa Lau Man-man called the record-low number "inspiring", saying it proved the efficacy of the smoking control measures adopted by the government.

Asked to comment on the increase in tobacco tax and the expansion of no-smoking zones across the city, Ho said it is still "too soon to say" about the effects.

There does not have to be any immediate effect, while more "noticeable" effects may come in the next few years, he said.

Nonetheless, Ho and Lau said more measures should be taken to bring the smoking rate even lower.

Ho suggested Hong Kong introduce plain cigarette packaging similar to what has been done in Australia, where cigarettes are required to be sold in the same monotonous, logo-free packages, with brand names printed in the same plain typeface.

Lau said she believes venue managers should be made liable if they allow customers to violate smoking bans in their places of business.

She also called for increasing tobacco tax on a regular basis.

Lau said the city's goal is to cut the smoking rate to a single-digit figure "in near future", but she did not specify a timetable.

Only very few regions in the world have achieved such a target, Ho said.

guojiaxue@chinadailyhk.com

China Daily

(HK Edition 08/25/2011 page1)