PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 January, 2009, 12:00am

Should the smoking ban be delayed?

While it is understandable that some businesses in Hong Kong fear they may lose customers and thereby profits if wider smoking bans are introduced, let us not lose sight of the bigger issues.

By providing places for people to smoke, smoking is encouraged.

By it being made comparatively easy to find a public place to smoke, more cigarettes will be consumed.

The consumption of cigarettes will lead to more smoking-induced illnesses, and about half of all smokers will die protracted and painful deaths as a result.

Delaying the introduction of wider smoking bans might well add to the profits of some bars and restaurants as smokers would presumably prefer to go to them (though non-smokers might eschew them).

But at what cost? The health costs to individuals, smokers and passive smokers who work in smoke-polluted rooms are known and are grave. The cost to the smoker's family, when illness debilitates him, is also grave.

The sick smoker's medical and social security costs to the whole community are other factors to be weighed against the profits of the few.

All in all, on health, economic and indeed on humanitarian grounds, to delay further restricting indoor smoking areas is indefensible.

Paul Surtees, Mid-Levels

I can understand why P. A. Crush (Talkback, January 10) and Cynthia Henderson (Talkback, January 15) want to try to dismiss my arguments for protection from tobacco smoke as churned statistics, because they would not want this issue to be encumbered with facts.

With more space we could discuss the distribution of the more than 40 tonnes of exhaled and sidestream tobacco smoke in Hong Kong between lungs, furniture, fittings and outdoor air.

In the meantime I am grateful to Mr Crush for his colourful description of one of the consequences of smoking indoors as 'yellow filth' which 'clings to the walls'. I am confident that a large majority would not regard this as any longer legitimate or want the air space in their building to be threatened by the creation of such a toxic waste dump.

Our parks should be smoke-free for several reasons and Ms Henderson underestimates the impact of tobacco smoke on air quality in the vicinity of smokers. For example, in Finland tobacco smoke particulates in outdoor cafes were 5 to 20 times higher than on pavements of busy streets.

On cruise ships, exposure to cancer-causing tobacco chemicals tripled despite strong wind and unlimited space for dispersion. At the University of Maryland, outdoor tobacco smoke was measurable 7 metres from the source (

Ms Henderson does make a strong point about vehicle emissions and we have consistently demonstrated the monetary and health benefits of cleaner air and building railways rather than roads in Hong Kong.

While I certainly regard restriction of private car use as a public health benefit and use public transport whenever possible, Hong Kong's main traffic polluters are outdated diesels in commercial and public transport which (as Christine Loh Kung-wai points out in her column) the government refuses to regulate on a mandatory rather than voluntary basis ('Silence is not golden', January 15). Whether my current occasional use of a car amounts to 'hypocrisy', others can decide.

If Ms Henderson wants to campaign for traffic-free zones in Sai Kung or anywhere else I will support her, but she should not be willing to trade off one potent source of pollution for another.

Anthony Hedley, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

On other matters ...

Earlier this month, while I was travelling as a passenger in a taxi, my driver answered his mobile phone.

He removed his left hand from the steering wheel, talked while driving and on his second call stared into his lap to view the incoming number.

He lost complete sight of the road and traffic ahead, and was travelling at some considerable speed. After I politely asked him to refrain from using his phone in both Cantonese and English, he became agitated and aggressive and the quality of his driving deteriorated.

Taxi drivers are professional drivers receiving money for their services.

They, like other commercial drivers of minibuses and delivery trucks, are at work and must give their chosen jobs their full attention.

The effect of talking on mobiles upon a driver's concentration is well documented and borne out in a frighteningly increased risk of road accidents and resultant injury or loss of life. Please, will the police outline the law governing the use of mobile phones in moving vehicles?

In my experience, any safeguards for the public are not being enforced.

My assertion that, while at work, a personal mobile phone must always be switched off was met by my driver with dismay and ridicule.

The taxis are all linked with radio communication to their control centres in case of emergencies, bookings and traffic information.

Our roads with no drivers using mobile phones while moving would position Hong Kong as a regional leader in road safety. This would be a step up in social responsibility that would strengthen our claim to be a 'world city'.

L. Hill, Pok Fu Lam

I support the latest decision of the government to raise the fare of taxis in the New Territories ('Green-taxi fares match red cabs', January 14). This rise is slightly lower than the one that was proposed by the taxi drivers, but in my opinion is quite appropriate in this time of economic downturn.

Remember, when the fare for the taxis in Kowloon was raised, a lot of cabbies from the New Territories were complaining that they would be made less competitive than their Kowloon counterparts. Also, a lot of complaints were received from the Kowloon taxi drivers. They described the act as 'taking money from their pockets'.

Now, all legally-operating taxis are on an equal footing and hopefully this will bring a better balance.

I understand that the changes in fares are designed to make these taxis more competitive against those drivers offering discounts. However, I think more has to be done by the government to combat those illegal taxi operators who are offering discounts.

I appreciate that the new fare structure is an improvement. However, the lawful taxi drivers are correct. Their illegal counterparts are costing them money.

As I said, the government must do more to clamp down on the illegal operators, perhaps with stiffer punishments for offenders, which can act as a deterrent to the illicit drivers and to the passengers who use their services.

Denise Tam, Kowloon Bay