In 2005, China signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and Hong Kong and Macau became indirect parties to the convention.
One of the key guidelines is that governing bodies "should ensure that interaction with the tobacco industry on matters related to tobacco control or public health is accountable and transparent". So it is disappointing to see Legislative Council members that act as honorary consultants to tobacco groups do not appear to be required to disclose their connections to these organisations.
Wong Ting-kwong and Vincent Fang Kang are honorary consultants to the Tobacco Concern Control Group, while Paul Tse Wai-chun is an honorary adviser for Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco.
Both groups have close links to the tobacco industry and focus their efforts on trying to persuade the government not to raise taxes on tobacco. They say higher prices encourage the growth of illicit tobacco. But the WHO and World Bank say this standard argument from tobacco groups is bogus and have stated that taxation is the most effective means of stopping youth smoking by limiting affordability and at the same time persuading adult smokers to give up the habit.
Wong and Fang declined to say if they were involved with tobacco groups, although Tse admitted it, saying: "I take issue with the government's using the tactic of imposing hefty increases of tobacco excise as means to reduce local consumption of cigarettes. Not only is the effect of this tactic questionable, it may be unduly oppressive to the underprivileged yet die-hard smokers." He also says he is a non-smoker and does not encourage smoking especially among teenagers.
We would argue that it is inappropriate for any legislator to be an adviser, whether paid or otherwise, to an industry whose products are proven to kill people, addicts children to nicotine, that costs the government billions of dollars in medical care and which seriously impedes productivity. Tobacco kills one in two users.
Cigarettes retail here at only 65 per cent of the prices in Singapore, 50 per cent in Ireland and Britain and 38 per cent in Queensland, while the cost of living in Hong Kong is far higher than any of these places. At current prices, cigarettes are easily affordable to Hong Kong youth.
With the tobacco lobby groups in full cry and the government forever on the back foot, it is no wonder that the HK$40 increase the government had planned for a packet of cigarettes at the last budget did not materialise. Instead, the price rose a derisory HK$4. For that, we can thank the DAB, which refused to go along with the increase.
Edward Yau's legacy
We received the following copy of an e-mail from a frustrated reader who, tired of inhaling the fumes from idling engines outside his residence in May Road, complained to the Environmental Protection Department about the nuisance. It replied as follows.
"Under the Motor Vehicle Idling (Fixed Penalty) Ordinance (Cap.611), a driver is prohibited from idling an engine of a vehicle for more than three minutes in any 60-minute period.
"Both traffic wardens and environmental protection inspectors are empowered to enforce the law. Traffic wardens will enforce the law during their normal patrol duty. The EPD, on the other hand, will co-ordinate enforcement-cum-publicity activities at idling engine black spots by distributing idling ban leaflets and stickers to drivers.
"On the afternoon of 4 April, we conducted enforcement-cum-publicity activities at May Road. We spotted a private car with idling engine, but it left the scene when we started timing."
Another example of the ineffectiveness of one of Hong Kong's most useless pieces of legislation.
And where now is Edward Yau Tang-wah, the driving force behind that legislation? Right at the heart of government as director of the Chief Executive's Office of Hong Kong.
According to his Wikipedia entry, his role is "to assist the Chief Executive in formulating policies and setting policy goals and priorities; maintaining close contacts with executive and legislative councillors, political parties as well as the public sector to enlist their support for government work".
Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to email@example.com