香港政府统计处（The Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department）近日调查显示，香港成年居民中烟民数量仅余11%。医疗专家将此视为喜讯，但烟草公司却愁眉不展。
Hong Kong: Soon a Smoke-free Zone?
The Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department’s recent survey showing that only 11% of Hong Kong resident adults are still smoking will be taken as good news by the medical health profession, but not such good news by the tobacco companies.
It puts Hong Kong into the forefront among cities, countries and territories aiming to achieve “smoke-free” status, a level which is defined as 5% or less of adult residents still puffing on the evil weed.
Other front runners in the race to smoke-free are New Zealand, which has set 2025 as its target year, and Finland, which is aiming to reach the goal by 2040.This puts tiny, densely populated Hong Kong in the somewhat unlikely company of two countries with which it has little in common culturally, geographically, or otherwise. (Hong Kong, for example, vastly outnumbers both New Zealand and Finland in population terms, unless we include sheep and reindeer in their tallies, and even then ….)
As usual, there are varying definitions which apply to the statistics. Insurance companies generally define a smoker as someone who has consumed tobacco at least once in the past year. Hong Kong health officials have a more relaxed view, defining a smoker as someone who consumes at least one cigarette a day.
There are some big, obvious differences surrounding smoking in Hong Kong today versus 20 years ago. In those days, cigarette advertising and promotion was prominent and omnipresent: billboards, newspapers, TV, radio, etc. There were no regulations establishing no-smoking zones for public health reasons; nor were their health warnings about the risks of smoking mandated to be printed on cigarette packaging.
Airplanes, cinemas, and restaurants were all smoke-filled from cheek to jowl.
Importantly, public awareness about the links between smoking and diseases of the lung and cardiovascular system was low in those days. This has changed, through education and advocacy.
In more recent years, cigarette advertising has disappeared due to government regulations. Smoke-free zones by law include beaches, most public parks, bus stops, bars and restaurants, etc.; and these bans are enforced by uniformed “smoke police” (my term) who slap offenders with fines.
Cigarette packaging carries graphic warnings about the health risks of smoking, and the cost of smoking has been ratcheted up (HK$50 for the average pack of cigarettes today) through government taxation specifically aimed at curbing consumption.
Another factor which is difficult to quantify but deemed significant by the anti-smoking advocates is peer pressure. As a turning point is reached and a growing majority of people in any sub-set of the community stop smoking, the remaining smokers are gradually subject to some degree of pressure to stop creating second-hand health risks for their neighbors, family and colleagues. This seems to have a snowball effect over time.
The global battle over tobacco consumption, meanwhile, is likely to see a wave of legal initiatives launched by tobacco companies challenging government regulations expanding no-smoking zones, as well as more explicit health warnings required on cigarette packaging. Some countries are considering legislation which would ban brand identification of any sort on cigarette packaging, for example.
Regardless of the outcome of those challenges, three lessons seem clear from Hong Kong’s success in cutting down on the incidence of smoking (and smoking-related health problems).
First, the government has to pass effective regulations on advertising & promotion, smoke-free zones, and taxation of cigarettes.
Second, they have to take effective steps to enforce these regulations.
Third, a long-term public education and awareness campaign is required to educate people to the clear and obvious health risks associated with smoking, including the health impacts of second-hand smoke on bystanders.
The global trend in this respect seems to be against, rather than with, the tobacco companies, not to mention the smokers.