Allowing brand promotion on non-tobacco items will mean heavy public health cost, says professor The city will pay heavily for a bill that still allows tobacco companies leeway to promote their products, anti-smoking experts have said. Anthony Hedley, chair professor of the University of Hong Kong's department of community medicine and director of its tobacco control research and policy unit, said he was unhappy that after much delay in scrutinising the anti-smoking bill, it was still not good enough. 'For this city to come out with such a half-baked piece of legislation is just unbelievable. I'm very disappointed. It's not an effective public health document,' he said. 'What we are seeing is continued and actually successful methods to maintain normality of tobacco in this town. and we will pay for that with public health.' The Legislative Council adjourned its debate on the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2005 last night. The bill seeks to impose a smoking ban in bars and restaurants on a staggered basis from January 1 next year to July 1, 2009. All cigarette packets will have to carry a graphic health warning and terms such as 'low tar' will be banned from 2008. Tobacco advertising will be banned at all retail outlets from November 1 next year and at all licensed hawker stalls from November 1, 2009. Last year, the University of Hong Kong estimated the total cost of active and passive smoking was HK$5.3 billion, not including 6,920 deaths last year related to smoking. Professor Hedley warned the delayed enforcement of the law would be costly. 'We can't say where that figure is now,' he said. 'We definitely can say there will be a cost in terms of tobacco promotion and recruitment of young people to nicotine addiction. Because of the brand extension issue, there will be a cost to the health of the hospitality industry's workers, and there will be a cost which will be attributable to the 'light' and 'mild' terms. If that is not effectively dealt with, then we will still have a large number of people who believe these cigarettes are safer, that they are not as lethal as they really are.' Professor Hedley singled out the way the government inserted a clause allowing brand extensions - the use of tobacco brand names and logos on non-tobacco products such as clothes and shoes. 'There are very serious questions to be answered about how this [clause] got into the consultation document, why it was not changed, and why the bureau refused to consider it now,' he said. Judith Mackay, senior World Health Organisation adviser on tobacco, wanted to know why the government took five years to legislate. The green paper was first tabled in 2001, when the smoking bill had not been amended since 1997. 'Why this huge delay? Was it because of some Legislative Council members? Was it something like Sars? Or was it [government] ineptitude,' Dr Mackay asked. The next step would be to implement the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. 'Hong Kong has to be more vigorous against smuggling,' she said. Professor Hedley said one measure was to increase tobacco duty, which had not risen for six years. 'That is a device which has made our tobacco some of the cheapest in the world now relative to GDP,' he said. An international brand cost HK$22 per pack, compared with HK$35 to HK$36 before, he said. 'It does not make any sense. This is supposed to be a business-orientated government. It should be making money out of the tobacco industry, not the tobacco industry making money out of the government and the people.'