SCMP Monday, December 4, 2000

Charity defends using tobacco industry cash


Charity group Caritas has been criticised for taking money from the tobacco industry to pay for its youth anti-smoking campaigns.
The Tobacco Institute of Hong Kong, the industry's trade association, donated $452,000 this year to Caritas Integrated Service for Young People in Wong Tai Sin. The money is intended for 20 anti-smoking programmes running until March, ranging from workshops in schools to schemes targeting recent immigrants from the mainland. Similar schemes may be launched next year in Caritas' Lam Tin division.
The institute has spent nearly $2 million on youth anti-smoking schemes this year. It sponsored Commercial Radio's anti-smoking programmes this year to the tune of $500,000, including backing a two-day youth camp for 100 teenagers.
However, the chairman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, Professor Anthony Hedley, attacked the decision to accept tobacco money.
"It is a serious matter to give money to Commercial Radio or non-governmental organisations like Caritas," said Professor Hedley. "There is no place whatsoever for the tobacco industry in health-care. It is only part of the industry's repositioning of itself as 'responsible citizens'." He said the sponsorships were an attempt to get public support for loosening control of the industry.
Charles Chan Chi-kwong, supervisor of the Integrated Service in Wong Tai Sin admitted the decision to accept the money had created controversy. "It was difficult to convince concerned bodies within Caritas to accept money from tobacco companies," he said. "Some said it was like whitewashing the companies."
Mr Chan agreed to accept the industry's donation because "we have common interest to prevent juvenile smoking".
The Tobacco Institute's executive director Albert Chan Yu-chung also defended the donation. "One should look at the programme itself," he said. "What it contains is more important than who sponsors it."
A study of SAR teenagers last year found that 20 per cent of boys and 13 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 were smoking. It was an increase of five to six percentage points on a similar survey in 1994. Anti-smoking campaigners have blamed cigarette companies for targeting young people.
The tobacco industry in Hong Kong has estimated gross revenues of $2 billion a year. The Institute's four main members, Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Nanyang Brothers, are the leading suppliers of cigarettes in Hong Kong.