SCMP Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Health chief stands by smoking ban


The top health official said yesterday the Government was determined to ban smoking in indoor public areas despite strong criticism from legislators who say the proposal is too radical and difficult to enforce.
Speaking after the opening ceremony of the International Hospital Federation Congress 2001, Secretary for Health and Welfare Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong backed the ban but said it would have to be done in stages so people could adapt.
"Difficulties in enacting it does not mean we will not do it," he said of the proposed ban. "People some 10 years ago could hardly imagine we would not be allowed to smoke on planes or trains. "There are always difficulties when making the first move. So the ban needs to be done in stages and complemented with other measures such as public education."
The Mass Transit Railway Corporation and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation banned smoking on trains in 1994.
At a Legco panel meeting on Monday, lawmakers attacked the Government's plan to turn Hong Kong into a no-smoking city, saying the ban was too radical. Long-time smoker and non-affiliated legislator Andrew Wong Wang-fat accused the Government of smearing smokers and reducing them to the same level as drug-takers.
Officials have proposed amending the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance to ban smoking in most indoor places, including offices, shops, factories, restaurants, bars and karaoke lounges.
"The basic principle is: smoking harms health, whether it is active or passive smoking," Dr Yeoh said. "What people need to remember is the rights of people who do not smoke. Would you like to have your children in a public place breathing in carcinogens?
"People can smoke if they wish but not when they are in public areas where the majority of people are non-smokers. The Government has a responsibility to review the law and put forward proposals we think are reasonable to restrict smoking in indoor places."
Dr Yeoh said medical findings showed that inhaling second-hand smoke increased the risk of cancer, heart disease and chest problems.