COSH’s response to the tobacco control measures proposed by the Government
2015.05.18Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) welcomes the proposal of the Government to further protect the public from smoking hazards by imposing more comprehensive tobacco control measures, including enlargement of health warnings on tobacco products to at least 85%, expansion of no smoking area to 8 bus interchange at tunnel portal areas and ban on e-cigarettes including import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising.
Health Warnings on Tobacco Products
COSH fully supports the Government’s proposal to enhance the health warnings on tobacco products, including enlarging the size of pictorial health warning to at least 85% of the two largest surfaces of the packet and of the retail container, increasing the number of forms of health warning from six to twelve and adding warning “Tobacco kills up to half of its user” and quitline 1833 183. Many countries have introduced more stringent and successful measures to regulate tobacco packing in recent years. Australia, the first country to introduce plain packaging in 2012, has resulted a substantial decrease in smoking population. It is followed by Ireland and United Kingdom in 2016 and more countries are considering to adopt. On the other hand, Thailand has increased the coverage of pictorial health warning to 85% of the cigarette pack in 2014. The effectiveness of these measures has provided strong evidence and urgency for such approach in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Both measures become the global trend in tobacco control. Dr Margaret CHAN, Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO), particularly quoted the successful measures of plain packaging as well as tobacco tax increase in the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in March 2015. She called for more countries to carry out these bold and effective measures to tackle the tobacco epidemic. The conference affirmed their support for those countries which have passed or are considering adopting plain packaging or pictorial warnings covering more than 85% and encouraged other countries to adopt those measures by 2018.
COSH has been advocating the implementation of plain packaging since May 2012. In view of the global successful examples and WHO’s appeal, the Government of the Hong Kong SAR should actively consider adopting plain packaging in 2 to 3 years.
Ban on E-cigarettes
COSH supports the proposal of total ban on e-cigarettes. COSH had co-organized a press conference with the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong in March 2015 and sent an open letter co-signed by different medical associations and tobacco control organizations in May 2015 to advocate a total ban on e-cigarettes. We are pleased that the Government adopts our recommendation.
COSH has serious concern on the widespread and rapid growth of global sales of e-cigarettes. Currently the flavours and designs of e-cigarettes available in Hong Kong are diverse and all appeal to the youth. Sellers usually use misleading marketing strategies to attract the youth. Its ingredients, effectiveness on smoking cessation and long-term health risks remain unknown. WHO has stated that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarette is an effective smoking cessation method and urges countries to regulate e-cigarettes. The total ban in Hong Kong will effectively minimize the health risk of the public to the exposure of e-cigarettes and prevent e-cigarette as a gateway to smoking, especially among the youth.
Expansion of Statutory No Smoking Area
The amendment of Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance in 2006 has designated all indoor and some outdoor public transport facilities as no smoking areas. The proposal to include 8 bus interchanges at tunnel portal areas as no smoking areas can reduce the health risks of the public from secondhand smoke exposure. Singapore has banned smoking in any public area occupied by a queue of 2 or more persons since January 2013 and similar measure will be taken by Beijing from June 2015, from which the Government should take reference and further designate more outdoor public places as no smoking area, such as busy streets, all outdoor public transport stations and outdoor seating area of restaurants.
With the concerted efforts of the Government, public health sectors and the communities, Hong Kong’s smoking prevalence in 2012 has reached its record low of 10.7% which is one of the lowest prevalence records in the world. In order to further reduce the smoking prevalence to single digit, it is necessary to implement multi-pronged tobacco control measures, such as raising tobacco tax, complete ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship including product display, strengthening enforcement against smoking offences and illicit cigarette trade, enhancing smoking cessation services and education, etc. COSH will spare no effort to disseminate smoking hazards to the public, monitor the epidemic and unite the whole community to achieve a smoke-free Hong Kong.