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Tobacco control: Smoking cessation and key public health objectives

12 Feb 2009

About 350 local participants from different disciplines including medical, dentist, pharmacy, nursing, academic and social work, today (February 12) attended the International Symposium on Management of Tobacco Dependence organised by the Tobacco Control Office of the Department of Health.

The aim of the two-day symposium is to present up-to-date knowledge on tobacco control with focus on smoking cessation.

Delivering the opening address at the symposium, the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow said smoking prevention and tobacco control was and would continue to be one of Hong Kong's key public health objectives.

He said tobacco remained the major attributable factor to the top five leading causes of death in Hong Kong, claiming about 6,900 lives in the community every year.

"The world is in a tobacco epidemic. No nation is spared, and no community exempt.

"Wherever we are, we bear, together, enormous health and social costs that the epidemic has inflicted on us," Dr Chow said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that tobacco products killed more than five million people every year and would eventually kill half of all regular smokers.

"In the Western Pacific Region alone, cigarette smoking kills two people every minute," Dr Chow said.

A study by local academics estimated that the annual value of medical plus productivity loss amounted to about $5 billion, among which 80% resulted from active smoking and the rest from passive smoking.

To help reduce tobacco dependence in the community, Dr Chow said the Government adopted a combination of measures, including legislation, taxation, publicity, education, enforcement as well as smoking cessation services.

"The most significant legislative measure we took in recent years was to tackle 'second-hand smoking' with the amendment of our tobacco control law to extensively expand the smoking ban to all indoor public places including workplaces, schools, restaurants as well as certain outdoor areas such as beaches and parks beginning from 2007.

"A new fixed penalty system for smoking offences will be put in place in a few months' time. Under the new system, all offenders who smoke illegally will be fined a fixed penalty level of $1,500 and required to pay the fine within 21 days," Dr Chow said.

Also, the Government will expand the smoking ban to public transport interchanges. From July 1, the six types of qualified establishments including bars, clubs, nightclubs, bathhouses, massage establishments and mahjong-tin kau premises, will be smoke-free when their temporary exemption from smoking ban is ended.

Dr Chow also thanked the commitment of anti-smoking professionals throughout past decades whose work had contributed to reduction of the smoking prevalence of the population aged 15 and above from more than 23% in 1982 to about 12% in the latest survey conducted in 2007-2008.

Knowing that achieving WHO's target of creating a 100% smoke-free environment was by no means easy, he said it was not a mission impossible either.

"The key lies in concerted and relentless efforts. Policymakers must have the will and determination to work towards this aim, and all who share the conviction in the community must also be ready to contribute in their respective capacities," he said.

Noting that smoking cessation was an essential aspect of any tobacco control strategy, Dr Chow said the Government had devoted considerable resources to strengthen cessation services provided by the public sector, including the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority, as well as the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health.

Also speaking at the symposium, the Director of Health, Dr P Y Lam, who said the Government was now collaborating with the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals to operate a more accessible, three-year pilot community-based smoking cessation programme under which free treatment would be provided to smokers.

"This new programme will cover four major areas - clinical cessation services, training of healthcare personnel, research as well as publicity and education.

"Abundant evidence has shown that smoking cessation is one of the most effective interventions that can decrease smoking-related morbidity and mortality," he said.

A total of 17 speakers from the Mainland, Macao SAR, Australia, Finland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Hong Kong were invited to share their insights and experience with participants in the symposium.

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