Support to Strengthen Tobacco Control Measures Protect the Public from Smoking Hazards
2015.07.06Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (“COSH”) welcomed the Government’s proposals to strengthen the tobacco control measures, including enlarging the size of pictorial health warnings to at least 85% of the cigarette pack area and increasing the number of forms of health warning to twelve, smoking ban at eight bus interchanges located within the tunnel portal areas and prohibiting e-cigarettes. COSH also collected over 20,000 signatures from citizens, organizations and companies of different sectors of the society in June supporting the proposed measures to further lower the smoking prevalence and protect public health in Hong Kong.
The Panel on Health Services of the Legislative Council held a special meeting today (6 July 2015) to discuss the proposals. COSH organized a rally outside the Legislative Council, together with the School of Public Health, School of Nursing of The University of Hong Kong, medical students from The University of Hong Kong and The Chinese University of Hong Kong and representatives from different sectors of the society, to support the proposed tobacco control measures. COSH Chairman Antonio KWONG remarked, “COSH fully supports the proposals of the Government which can effectively reduce tobacco use and further protect the public from the hazards of smoking. These measures are also in line with the international trend in tobacco control. The last amendment on the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance was in 2006.”
Health Warnings on Cigarette Products
The existing six forms of pictorial health warnings covering at least 50% of cigarette pack area have been used since 2007 and their deterring effect has faded. International researches and experience have proved that pictorial health warnings could reduce the attractiveness of smoking, increase intention to quit and deter youth from smoking. Larger warnings could educate smokers and the public on the health hazards of smoking, as well as prevent the tobacco companies from using cigarette packs for promotion.
To protect public health, many countries/ regions have introduced more stringent and successful measures to regulate tobacco packing. The effectiveness of these measures has provided strong evidence and urgency for such approach in Hong Kong. Nepal, Thailand and Pakistan have already increased the coverage of pictorial health warning to 90% and 85% respectively. Australia, the first country to introduce plain packaging* in December 2012, has resulted a substantial decrease in smoking population. Ireland and United Kingdom has also confirmed to implement plain packaging in March 2015. Increasing the coverage of pictorial health warning and tightening the packaging of tobacco products become the international trend in tobacco control. It is also believed that supplementing the warning “Tobacco kills up to half of its users” and quitline 1833183 could effectively encourage more smokers to quit smoking and seek assistance from smoking cessation service providers.
Smoking Ban at Bus Interchange at Tunnel Portal Areas
COSH supports the Government’s proposal to designate eight bus interchanges within the tunnel portal areas as no smoking areas in order to protect the public from the harms of secondhand smoke. Singapore has banned smoking in any public area occupied by a queue of 2 or more persons since January 2013 while similar measure has been implemented in Beijing since June 2015.
COSH has serious concern on the widespread and rapid growth of global sales of e-cigarettes. COSH 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 has adopted our recommendation. Currently, the flavours and design of e-cigarettes available in Hong Kong are diverse and sellers usually use misleading marketing strategies to attract the youth. Their ingredients, effectiveness on smoking cessation and long-term health risks remain unknown. The World Health Organization has stated that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarette is an effective smoking cessation method and urged 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 from being a gateway to smoking, especially among the youth.
COSH would like to reflect the eagerness of the public to strengthen tobacco control works to the Government and members of the Legislative Council. In view of the tobacco epidemic in Hong Kong and the international tobacco control trend, it is hoped to implement the proposed measures as soon as possible to protect public health. COSH will continue to urge the Government to strengthen the multi-pronged tobacco control measures, including raising tobacco tax substantially, implementing plain packaging of tobacco products, increasing resources on smoking cessation services, education, publicity and enforcement against illicit cigarettes to further reduce the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong to single digit in one to two years.
Plain packaging standardizes and simplifies the packaging of tobacco products. The pictorial health warnings on the main sides of cigarette pack are expanded. All forms of tobacco branding should be labeled according to the government prescriptions and with simple and plain format. This means that trademarks, graphics and logos are not allowed on cigarette packs, except for the brand name that is displayed in a standard font size, colour and location on the package. The packaging should not contain other colours and should include only the content and consumer information, such as toxic constituents, and health warnings required by law. The quitline number should also be displayed at a prominent position.