Unified help now on offer for more smokers who want to quit

The number of people who wanted to quit smoking jumped threefold last year after the government raised tobacco taxes by 50 per cent and extended smoking bans, and from today they will have a unified help service.

The hotlines of the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority will be merged under the department's number: 1833 183.

Callers can press 1 for the department, 2 for social workers from the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, and 3 for the authority. The former number of the authority hotline, 2300 7272, will still be in use.

Last year, more than 15,000 people called the Department of Health's smoking cessation hotline. In 2008 the figure was just 4,300.

More than 300 registered for the quit-smoking scheme on an online platform launched in February, while more than 24,000 browsed the site.

Assistant professor Daniel Ho Sai-yin, from the University of Hong Kong's school of public health, said the significant increase in the number of quitters was due to the 50 per cent rise in tobacco tax last February. Although smoking bans were extended to bars, clubs and indoor transport hubs last year, the tax increase was the heaviest blow.

'Smoking had been inconvenient ever since it was banned in almost all indoor areas in 2007. The ones last year were merely an extension,' he said. But he said a combination of measures would still be more effective than one single measure.

Ho urged smokers not to give up on quitting, even if the first few attempts failed. 'Many people succeed only after six or seven attempts. If you fail once, it is not the end of the world.'

February's tobacco tax increase was the first in eight years.

In July, the smoking ban was extended to all bars, nightclubs, mahjong parlours and massage establishments. Offenders risk a fixed-penalty ticket of HK$1,500. In September, the ban was widened to include all 48 covered transport interchanges.

The government will ban smoking at all 137 outdoor transport interchanges in the coming months.

Next month, the department will offer a certified training programme for medical workers who want to become tobacco treatment specialists, in collaboration with a US clinic and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals.

Healthy increase

The number of people wanting to stop smoking has more than tripled

There are 680,000 smokers in Hong Kong, making the percentage of the city's population who smoke: 11.8%