Cigarettes easier for teenagers to buy
Most retailers ignore ban, survey finds
Cigarettes appear to have become easier for teenagers to buy, with a survey finding under-18s could feed their habit from most retailers.
The Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre sent six teenagers aged 15 to 17 to buy cigarettes at 522 shops in 18 districts. Attempts were made to buy cigarettes at 29 shops in each district, including supermarkets, convenience store chains, small stores and newsstands, in August last year.
It was the third consecutive year that the group conducted the survey. The 2006 survey found 74 per cent of outlets sold to under-18s and last year's figure was 86 per cent.
Newspaper vendors and small stores were among the worst offenders, with 97 per cent of newsstands and 96 per cent of stores selling cigarettes to the undercover teenagers.
The chairman of the Coalition of Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants, Bacon Liu Sair-ching, said: 'It is difficult to tell from a youngster's appearance whether he is under 18 or not. Some look like adults and some do not. We do not want to lose customers to our competitors. Under-aged smokers can still buy cigarettes from convenience stores nearby even if we refused to do so.'
In a separate survey of newsstand vendors, 11 per cent said they sold cigarettes to under-18s because they needed the income.
The poll of 186 newsstand vendors was carried out by the centre at the end of last year.
About 53 per cent of respondents said the biggest difficulty in abiding by the law was that they could not judge whether the customer was an adult by their appearance.
About 32 per cent said the main problem was that they had no right to ask for identity documents.
Since last January, smoking has been banned in most public indoor areas, but 74 per cent of the vendors said their sales had increased in the past year despite the new rule.
Lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, of the Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre, said this might be because more people threw away their cigarettes before finishing them when they went indoors.
Another possible reason was that people smoked more as a rebellion against the regulations, he said.
Meanwhile, another poll by the centre found about 10 per cent of teenagers smoked regularly and 17 per cent of them said they first smoked when they were 10.
The survey recently interviewed 564 people under 18.
A total of 61 per cent of the teenage smokers said they usually bought cigarettes at newsstands or small stores, and 28 per cent said they smoked because of peer pressure.
One of the undercover teenagers, Chan Yuen-hei, 17, said: 'I was scared at first, but I found it so easy after successfully buying about 50 packs of cigarettes from retailers. 'Some even gave me a lighter for free.'
Mr Leung said under-aged smokers should be held liable if they bought cigarettes. He urged the Tobacco Control Office to send more staff to enforce the law. At present, the law only forbids retailers from selling cigarettes to people under 18, not teens from buying them.
The number of cigarettes imported in 2006 was 3.33 billion
Last year, the figure grew to 3.49b