Dr Judith Mackay: Stubbing it out
Updated: 2011-09-07 06:15
Hong Kong needs to take 10 steps to become a smoke-free city, according to World Lung Foundation senior advisor and anti-smoking crusader Judith Mackay.
The lesson of the fight to control tobacco, she said, is that smoking is an epidemic that will be solved not in hospitals and clinics but in the corridors of political power.
"We have to have taxation, we have to draw on international treaties and agreements, we have to address crime such as smuggling and we have to address big business and the way it behaves," said Dr Mackay.
Here are her 10 recommendations for the final push to make Hong Kong the world's first no-smoking city.
Bring in rolling tax rises: At HK$50 for a packet of 20, cigarettes in Hong Kong are still some 28 percent cheaper than they are in Singapore. Despite two significant tax rises in the past three years, tax on cigarettes in Hong Kong is 69 percent of the retail price, short of the WHO recommendation of 75 percent.
Stamp out illegal duty-free supplies: Too many "duty free" cigarettes with lower prices are finding their way into the market place. Between 60 and 65 percent are genuine products. Manufacturers, who benefit from the demand the illegal trade creates, must be compelled to control their supply chains.
Stop the smugglers: Tougher action needs to be taken against smuggling of cigarettes, treating it as a serious crime under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance that is causing addiction and death among young people.
Make all public areas smoke-free: Extend smoke-free areas to outdoor areas of all restaurants and bars. The onus should also be switched from smokers to licensees to enforce the ban.
Beef up the anti-smoking squad: Hong Kong's Tobacco Control Office is understaffed compared to Macao. Macao has 70 officers for a population of 514,000 while Hong Kong has only 99 for a population of 7.1 million. Officers should patrol areas as a preventative measure than just respond to written or telephone complaints.
Update warnings: The pictorial warnings on packets should be changed every one to two years. Smokers fail to notice them after they have been used for too long and Hong Kong is overdue a change in its warnings.
Bring in plain packaging: Hong Kong should follow Australia's lead and introduce mandatory plain packaging for cigarettes within the next three years.
Licence cigarette sales: Shops or newsstands which sell cigarettes should be licensed and retailers caught selling cigarettes to underage children should be stripped of their licences. Shops should be banned from displaying cigarettes and made to move all tobacco products into a shuttered cabinet or under the counter.
Better quit-smoking services: Smoking cessation services should be free and convenient for anyone who wants to quit.
Root out secret lobbyists: Investigations should be launched into any connections between tobacco companies and political parties, which are currently not required to divulge funding sources, and libertarian front organizations with charitable status that have sprung up recently in Hong Kong. If such organizations are found to benefit the tobacco industry rather than the Hong Kong public, they should be stripped of their charitable status.
(HK Edition 09/07/2011 page4)