SCMP Wednesday, May 16, 2001


Territory trails the field over restrictions on lighting up

MARY ANN BENITEZ

Hong Kong lags behind most developed countries and some Asian neighbours in passing anti-smoking laws, a World Health Organisation report shows.
The mainland, Thailand and Canada came out on top in the smoke-free league table, followed by Singapore and Malaysia, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report, released last year.
Critics have warned that government proposals to ban smoking in offices, shops, factories, restaurants, bars and karaoke lounges are too radical. But tobacco-control experts disagree.
"The Government proposals are certainly not [radical], when compared to many countries," Professor Anthony Hedley, chairman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, said yesterday. "These proposals are entirely consistent with the need to intervene and the policy stand taken by many other governments."
Dr Judith Mackay, a WHO consultant on tobacco control, agreed, describing the Hong Kong proposals as long overdue. "We're certainly not out of step with what's happening around us in Asia," she said. "Hong Kong will also be a very good example to other countries too."
Dr Mackay, who is also director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, said the proposals were nowhere near as stringent as the rules in Singapore, which in 1989 outlawed smoking in air-conditioned restaurants, shopping malls and sport centres. The ban was further extended to schools, private clubs and all air-conditioned shops in 1997.
Thailand has a strict smoke-free policy, banning or restricting smoking in most public places, private buildings and air-conditioned workplaces in 1997. Professor Hedley said restaurants were 75 per cent smoke-free and there was a strong movement to create completely smoke-free dining.
Progress in banning smoking at work has been made in the past two years in Australia and New Zealand, said James Repace, a visiting physicist who calls himself a "second-hand smoke consultant".
Dr Mackay said many countries were tightening legislation in anticipation of a WHO treaty on tobacco control.
Negotiations have begun on a set of regulations that will govern the spread of tobacco and tobacco products.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is expected to be signed by 50 countries, including the mainland, in 2003. The second round of negotiations ended on May 5 in Geneva.