The government declared a 'war on smoking' more than three years ago. Since then, much has been promised but little achieved. It has, so far, been a phoney war. Now, there are reasons to feel optimistic that the attack is finally about to begin. And the latest indications suggest it will be fought on a number of fronts. Official sources have revealed plans to include a comprehensive package of measures in proposed laws due to go before the Legislative Council later this year. A ban on smoking in offices, bars, restaurants and other indoor public places lies at the heart of the proposals. Tighter restrictions on tobacco company sponsorship and other forms of marketing are also on the way. There are plans to enlarge the health warnings on cigarette packets. And they might, in future, include graphic pictures which show the serious impact of smoking on people's health. These ideas are not new: they have been the subject of debate in Hong Kong for months. But the intentions are good - and the measures are needed. The sooner they are put in place, the better. The smoking ban is likely to be the most controversial measure. But it is long overdue. Attempts to introduce it in the past have been thwarted by opposition from the catering industry (whose case was helped by worries about the state of the economy). The fallout from the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the devastating effect of Sars in 2003 both contributed to the plans being delayed. There should, however, be no such concerns this time. Restaurants and bars were badly hit during the Sars outbreak, but have since bounced back strongly. The economy is looking healthy. Right now is an excellent time for action. The dire warnings from the catering industry about plunging sales and huge job losses have been dubious all along. Restaurants and bars have continued to thrive in other parts of the world where similar bans have been introduced. In some cities, business has picked up as a result of the healthier environment offered to customers. Opponents of the plans may point to declining sales of alcoholic drinks in Ireland since a ban was introduced there last year. But the smoking ban is not the only cause. And a more important estimate is the one which suggests thousands of Irish smokers have decided to kick the habit since the ban came into force. Cities in the US, Australia, Thailand, and - most recently - New Zealand are among the many which have introduced smoking bans in public places. Britain is expected to join them soon. There is a good reason why the international trend has moved in this direction. The priority is public health - and this outweighs any potential economic drawbacks, real or imagined. The statistics tell their own story. An estimated 5,500 people die from smoking-related illnesses each year in Hong Kong. Official figures show the number of regular smokers to be increasing. And there is alarming evidence that it is becoming increasingly prevalent among the young. This calls for a comprehensive strategy. The government's crackdown on tobacco sponsorship will help. The proposal is that the use of tobacco company brand names can no longer be used at sponsored events - even when not expressly linked to tobacco products. This is so strict it could end sponsorship by tobacco companies. The impact of placing gruesome health warnings on cigarette packets is not yet clear. But common sense suggests it can only have a deterrent effect. One concern which arises from the government's intentions is that some of the proposed grace periods are longer than necessary. Restaurants and bars should not need another year to gear up for a ban which they have known to be in the pipeline for at least three years. But at least the planning for the campaign appears to have been done. Now is the time for the government to fire its first shots in the real war on smoking.