Last Updated 16 Feb 2021

Problem Caused by Anti-Smoking Legislation in Hong Kong

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For example, on 1 January 2007 Hong Kong extended no smoking areas to cover the inside of restaurants, as well as offices and some public outdoor areas (Tobacco control, 2007).

While these laws have been largely welcomed by both health advocates and the general population, they have had some unintended consequences including an increase in cigarette litter and congestion in areas where smokers congregate, and a decrease in working efficiency in workplaces with significant numbers of smokers. This essay will examine these effects in more detail before considering some possible solutions. One of the outcomes of preventing office and shop workers from smoking in offices and shopping centres is that smokers are more likely to gather on pavements in the area near the entrance to the office building or mall.

The assembly of these smokers has produced an increase in litter, with waste such as cigarette butts and packaging often discarded on the street. Novotny and Zhao (1999) argue that this litter is plainly observable, may remain in the environment for a long time and might be hazardous to young children and animals if ingested. Given the densely packed office environment in the central business district of Hong Kong, it is apparent that the litter problem from smokers who smoke outside can be quite serious.

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As well as the littering problem, groups smoking on pavements can pose a physical danger to young children. Nakahara (2005) mentions that children are often at a height where they can be easily struck by smokers holding lit cigarettes. As the head of the child is often only at leg level to the adult smoker, the burning cigarette could easily harm the eye or other facial features of the child. It is suggested by Nakahara (ibid) that street smoking has become more widespread after stricter smoking legislation began to be enforced.

In the crowded urban parts of Hong Kong, such as in Mongkok and Causeway Bay, even if there are only a small proportion of pedestrians smoking, this would still generate a hazard to young children.  Besides the outdoor effects of smoking legislation, those companies operating in Hong Kong who employ smokers have also probably suffered. Considering the USA, Halpern, Shikiar, Rentz and Khan (2001) find that smokers have appreciably more absences from work than those who have never smoked.

The reason for this is believed to be due to increased rates of sickness among smokers. It could also be speculated that as smokers are more likely to take extended breaks than non-smokers, this would precipitate further reductions in working efficiency in offices with many smokers. As business is very important in the Hong Kong economy, maintaining a high working efficiency is vital to Hong Kong competitiveness.

Regarding the first problem of increased littering, there are four possible methods to counter this issue.

According to Bitgood, Carnes and Thompson (1988), these are environmental education, prompting, environmental design and punishment. Environmental education would include TV campaigns against littering, while prompting would mean signage outside offices reminding smokers not to litter. Environmental design would mean improved design of cigarette bins, and punishment means fines. A combination of these methods, together with increased frequency of visits by cleaners, would plausibly be the most effective solution to littering, and this already happens in Hong Kong (Clean Hong Kong, 2012).

The physical risk caused by smokers in public areas to young children can perhaps be solved by the establishment of smoking zones. While in Hong Kong, universities are supposedly smoke free, in the United States there are moves by some universities to have areas where smoking is allowed (Ryman, 2010). Although the presence of these smoking zones is common in airports, the proposal by universities in America would be for outdoor zones so this could lead to opposition by some non smokers.

As Kennedy et al. (2012) observe, in countries where restrictions have been placed on indoor smoking, thereby prompting greater outdoor smoking, a majority of interviewees now support outdoor smoking limits in certain settings.  Finally, the issue of working efficiency has also begun to be addressed in the United States, with certain employers, for the most part health care facilities, now actively not employing those applicants who state that they smoke on the application form.

Koch (2012) points out that while a tobacco-free recruiting procedure is intended to endorse health and decrease insurance costs, these polices of discrimination against smokers might have unintended repercussions with smokers feeling punished rather than encouraged to quit smoking. As a result, some States in America have started passing laws forbidding the discrimination in the workplace of smokers (Summary of District of Columbia Laws, 2010), although in Hong Kong this is not currently proscribed under the labour ordinance (Labour Department, 2012).

 This essay has examined the problems created by the ban on smoking in offices and many indoor public venues in recent years. These problems include a deteriorating litter problem, a danger to young children from lit cigarettes and decreased working efficiency among smokers. Solutions that were considered include intensifying and varying litter prevention schemes, establishing smoke free zones and implementing legislation to prevent smokers from being employed.

It is the belief of this writer that while the anti-smoking legislation was welcome, there was not enough thought regarding the consequences of this legalisation before it was implemented. While remedial measures can be introduced to partially solve some of these problems, the only certain way to eliminate these problems is to further reduce the number of smokers. For this to happen, it is likely that further legalisation which further restricts the advertising, sale, and consumption of tobacco is needed by the Hong Kong Government.

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