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Smoking is bad for your health – this is a pretty well-known fact at this point. But tons of people still smoke cigarettes regularly all over the world. Hong Kong officials are looking to change that in the city. Even if it means giving the old side-eye to people lighting up.
The smoking rate in Hong Kong has been dropping since the 80s. Last year, then-Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, announced that the rate had dropped continuously from 23.3% in the early 80s to 9.5% in 2021. That counts about 600,000 people still smoking in Hong Kong.
Still, officials are pushing for a virtually smoke-free city. They’re worried about the health risks of smoking, which could put more strain on the healthcare system, especially with Hong Kong’s aging population and rising number of people with chronic diseases. The government is aiming for a 7.8% smoking rate by 2025. To do that, they’re looking into a bunch of public strategies for cutting the smoking rate – and asking for citizen input through a public consultation running through September 30.
The public is encouraged to give their thoughts and opinions on the government’s proposed anti-smoking measures. This consultation will focus on four areas – bringing down both supply and demand of tobacco products; banning the promotion of and ugly-fying tobacco products; creating more non-smoking areas and improving health education with support for smokers who are trying to quit. The government is also raising the vice tax on cigarettes to 75% of the package price and is considering a lifetime ban on cigarettes for residents born after a certain date.
The Long-term Tobacco Policy Concern Group, formed by smokers, has criticized the idea of a lifetime smoking ban. “That policy has not been proven effective in other places, and its impact on tobacco control remains in doubt,” the group said.
At the same time, current Secretary of Health Lo Chung-mau says that the public also has a part to play in lowering smoking rates. After launching the consultation, he said, “When the members of the public see people smoking in non-smoking areas, even if no law enforcement officers can show up immediately, we can stare at the smokers."
It’s not likely that cops will be able to totally stop people from smoking in non-smoking areas or from breaking other smoking laws. So Lo wants the public to get involved and promote a smoke-free culture. He says that there are strength in numbers: “When someone takes out a cigarette at a restaurant, everyone on the premises can stare at that person. I do not believe that person would dare to hit back at everyone in the restaurant, as they are simply staring."