Academics seek $15m for more tobacco research

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 12:00am

Scientists who last week revealed the true cost of smoking to Hong Kong say that up to $15 million should be set aside by officials for tobacco research.

The academics at Hong Kong University's faculty of community medicine said they had to go through a lengthy process to scrape together the money needed to fund their research.

Using about $700,000 granted from the government's Health Care and Promotion Fund, they calculated that active and passive smoking costs $5.3 billion a year in lost productivity.

Their findings will be sent to government officials and are expected to influence efforts to bring in tougher anti-smoking laws.

But it took researchers almost a year to secure the money needed when the study began in 2000, according to project leader Sarah McGhee.

The researchers called for the government to put up $50 million - just 1 per cent of the total cost of smoking - to improve services designed to help people quit smoking.

Anthony Hedley, chair professor of community medicine at the university and one of the researchers involved in the study, said an extra $10 million to $15 million should also be set aside for smoking-related research.

He said that under current arrangements, applications for research were likely to get a maximum of $800,000 - a sum that would make it difficult to conduct more expansive studies.

'I don't think it is unreasonable to suggest that given the costs [of smoking], there should be clearly earmarked funds for tobacco intervention and that should include the needed public health research for situation assessment and evaluation of the intervention,' Professor Hedley said.

'[Right now], our day job is not simply doing the academic analytical work. It is [also about] navigating the bureaucracies and getting around all the inadequacies in the provision of research funding.'

A spokeswoman for the Health, Welfare and Food bureau said it planned to give tobacco control priority in doling out research grants but did not say whether it would consider setting up a special fund for tobacco research.

Official funding for health-related research is distributed through three main grants: the $10 million Health and Health Services Research Fund; the $450 million Research Fund for the Control of Infectious Diseases; and the $80 million Health Care and Promotion Fund.