It was American humourist Mark Twain who said how easy it was to stop smoking - he'd done it hundreds of times. Here in Hong Kong, nicotine addicts have seen several support services ready and willing to help people to give up cigarettes. There is even an anti-smoking programme that is funded by the tobacco industry itself - though there is no telling what Twain would have had to say about that. The merit of Quitline, launched yesterday, is that it brings help directly into the home; or the bus, restaurant, MTR - wherever there's an addict with a cellphone. Smokers now have the decision to stop smoking quite literally in their hands. If they stop to reflect that more than 20 diseases are caused by smoking, and the local death toll is 5,500 every year, the counsellors at the end of the phoneline should be very busy. Unfortunately, in spite of incontrovertible medical evidence, Asians are taking up the habit in increasing numbers. The mainland gets through 1,800 billion cigarettes annually, with an attendant epidemic of cancer, heart disease, and strokes. In Hong Kong, smoking-related diseases cost the taxpayer $2.7 billion over the past five years, and it is not just smokers who suffer. Inhaling other people's smoke is also damaging over the long term, something that should make parents stop and think about the harm they could be inflicting on their families. Around 50 per cent of primary and secondary school children live in homes where an adult smokes. The youngest victims are prone to chest infections, chronic middle-ear disease, and asthma attacks. More worryingly, the anti-smoking message is not reaching the younger generation. The number of teenage girl smokers has doubled since 1995. Twenty per cent of boys and 13 per cent of girls between 12 and 16 now smoke. The damage may well be done before they decide to quit.