Treaty demands that HK act now on smoking ban

The government has the duty to protect people from the health hazards posed by tobacco smoke

A 25-year-old bar worker in Australia recently lost half his tongue because of second-hand smoke.

He started working in a place similar to our mahjong parlours when he was only 21. After only three-and-a-half years, he got tongue cancer because of the tobacco smoke he had to breathe every day, all day. He had half his tongue removed to get rid of the cancer.

Cancer from tobacco smoke attacks people young and old, and permanently damages the former.

The government has delayed anti-smoking legislation for more than five years and should delay no longer. It also has a legal obligation to abide by our treaties. The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control was ratified by China last October, and that means Hong Kong has ratified it, too.

The framework for tobacco control is a legally binding treaty which was negotiated by the 192 member states of the World Health Organisation. It is designed to reduce the devastating health and economic impacts of tobacco.

The treaty's key provisions require countries to enact comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; ban the use of misleading and deceptive terms such as 'light' and 'mild'; combat smuggling, including the placing of final-destination markings on packs; increase tobacco taxes and instigate lawsuits against the tobacco giants to pay for the costs of the medical care to treat tobacco addicts and the innocent victims of tobacco smoke. It is not a choice. It is our legal duty.

The framework convention on smoking also requires the Hong Kong government to protect citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in workplaces, public transport and public indoor areas. This is not optional. Every employee, everywhere, has the same legal right to protection.

The framework also contains numerous other measures designed to promote and protect public health, such as mandating the disclosure of ingredients in tobacco products, providing treatment for tobacco addiction and encouraging legal action against the industry.

For interesting economic reading, try the World Bank report, 'Curbing the epidemic: governments and the economics of tobacco control'. It says that '...the negative effects of tobacco control on employment have been greatly overstated. This is because money once spent on tobacco would be spent on other goods and services, thereby generating more jobs'.

A comprehensive ban, without exemptions, must be passed this year.

Annelise Connell, chairwoman of Clear the Air

This letter was published in the South China Morning Post on February 26, 2006


Task 1: In groups of four or five, discuss and come up with suggestions for the issues below.

Hong Kong has recently seen a big increase in smoking among young people. After looking at the treaty and the steps taken by Australia to tackle the problem, draw up a strategy to lead the fight against the smoking menace.

Should there be new laws? Should cigarette use/cigarette trade be penalised? Or should certain aspects of the trade be legalised? (give details about these laws)

What is the best way to educate the public against the dangers posed by smoking?

Are there any other measures that may be effective in the war against smoking

Task 2: Stick to the same group and organise your suggestions. Write a letter to the editor of the Post.