Judith Mackay, senior policy adviser to the World Health Organisation, urged legislators this week not to water down anti-smoking legislation. She argues that Hong Kong was once a regional leader in legislative terms but has since been left behind by Taiwan, Thailand and even Mongolia. If you look back 10 years, Singapore and Hong Kong were out in front regionally in terms of anti-smoking legislation. Now, Hong Kong has been overtaken by Thailand. We have been overtaken by Mongolia. Taiwan has better legislation than us and even Vietnam. The reality is that we are beginning to fall back quite seriously. In general, countries upgrade their anti-smoking legislation every five years or so and carry out a major upgrade of their systems, a bit like Microsoft Windows. But both the mainland and Hong Kong have really fallen behind on this. I have been asked: 'Why has this happened? Is it because China has told Hong Kong something? Was it Tung Chee-hwa? Was it Donald Tsang Yam-kuen? Was it the tobacco industry? Was it [former health secretary] Yeoh Eng-kiong?' I don't know, but what I do know is that as soon as [current health secretary] York Chow Yat-ngok got in, I met him within 48 hours and he said: 'We've got to get this done'. Since 2001, when we had a discussion paper inviting the public to state their views, things have been really tardy and the time for us to tighten up anti-smoking legislation is long overdue. One possible reason is that we have had Sars and the bird flu worries and there has been a diversion of concern away from non-communicable diseases. Whether the tobacco companies have also been working hard behind the scenes, I don't know. We have signed the World Health Organisation framework of control on tobacco. We are under an international obligation to implement various measures such as abolishing 'light' and 'mild' categories of cigarettes within three years. Some legislators don't seem to quite understand our obligation. There is a serious lack of understanding about the fact that we are not entirely free agents in Hong Kong. We have got a long and honourable history of observing things like vaccination programmes and we have scrupulously followed the directives of the WHO in the past. I think there is an element of not wanting foreign interference but we observe maritime law and all manner of things where we submit ourselves to international laws. We do have one of the lowest rates of smoking in the world, partly because our level of female smoking is so low. About 12.2 per cent of adults aged 15 and above are smokers compared to an international average of around 30 per cent. Our men follow the western pattern of smoking - about 20 to 25 per cent of them smoke - while our women follow the eastern pattern, which is quite interesting. Only about 3 per cent of women are smokers. One worrying aspect has been the falling price of cigarettes. Ten years ago, cigarettes in Hong Kong were really expensive compared to other places in Asia. They have really fallen behind now in terms of expense. The tobacco industry here has been very active in trying to indicate that if prices go up there will be more smuggling and that is simply not the answer at all. Cigarettes are smuggled across every border in the world. If there is crime, it should be dealt with by criminologists and customs and excise and police. The one, best way to prevent children from smoking is to put up the price of cigarettes. Nothing else really seems to have much effect - health education, ban on sales to minors, health warnings - compared to increases in price. Children are exquisitely price sensitive and that is why it is so important. The tobacco industry has been very successful in not really having the price put up. The failure to implement tougher anti-smoking legislation in Hong Kong is a missed opportunity. At one stage we were very much the exemplar for the region and other countries looked to us. We have lost that now. Even with this legislation, we will not be back out in front. It will simply bring us back up to the level of some of the other countries which have done rather better.