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Hong Kongers urged to give disapproving stares to smokers to help curb tobacco use in the country

By Melanie Uson Published Jul 19, 2023 5:00 pm

Got a judgy look? That might come in useful in Hong Kong as its health minister urged the public to give disapproving stares to smokers to stop them from smoking. 

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the city’s health minister Professor Lo Chung-mau suggested the strategy during the Legislative Council’s meeting on anti-smoking policies.  

“Cigarettes can harm the health of all of us,” Lo said, adding that people can stare at smokers in restricted areas if local authorities don't show up to penalize them immediately. 

“When someone takes out a cigarette at a restaurant, everyone on the premises can stare at that person,” he explained. “I do not believe that person would dare to hit back at everyone at the restaurant as they are simply staring.” 

The said strategy aims to encourage the public’s cooperation in curbing tobacco use, noting that law enforcement officers cannot be present all the time. 

“We understand that law enforcement officers cannot always take action at the scene of the crime. When they arrive at the scene, the crime may have already stopped,” he said. 

Professor Lo went on to emphasize the ability of the public to create a culture of nonsmoking just like how people line up at a bus stop.

“No one will say it requires the law to compel people to queue. Our society is able to create a culture where people will comply with this rule of queuing when waiting for buses. I hope the whole of society can build a non-smoking culture,” he said. 

Aside from disapproving stares, the local health department has recently proposed a lifetime ban for people born after a certain year from buying tobacco products. They also plan to increase the tobacco tax in order to reinforce strong anti-smoking policies.  

“Tobacco-free Hong Kong has a healthy image. I do not think tourists visit Hong Kong because they would like to buy or smoke cigarettes,” he added. 

Currently, smokers in Hong Kong could be fined HK $1,500 or over US $190 (over P10,000) when caught smoking in restricted areas like in restaurants and workplaces. 

Lawmaker Chan Hoi-yan, however, raised her concerns about the suggested strategy, saying that it lacks a “concrete solution” and might trigger conflicts. 

“Even when officers from the Tobacco and Alcohol Control Office head to the scene where smokers are found, they will go as a team instead of alone as these actions can trigger arguments and conflicts,” she said, adding that the focus must be directed to the lack of enforcement of the law, which she noted is the root of the problem.

“They should not teach the public to stare at people. The problem is someone violated the law, but no one is there enforcing it,” she stressed. 

The panel’s deputy chairman, Kitson Yang Wing-kit, meanwhile, said that the government could further promote existing measures on tobacco control and smoking cessation to better educate the public about its detrimental effects in the long run.