There were 691,600 people aged 15 or above who were current smokers in Hong Kong in 2015, which accounted for 11.4% of total population. Smoking in public in Hong Kong has been banned from 1 January 2007 under Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance (Cap. 371), first enacted in 1982 with several subsequent amendments after that. Now, lighting up indoors in lifts, cinemas, workplaces, schools, hospitals, restaurants, bars, and supermarkets, and even outdoors at bathing beaches, swimming pools, stadiums, sports grounds, museums, and public parks is forbidden. Fine for non-compliance is HK$5,000.
Crowded Intersection of Percival Street and Lockhart Road. Photo by Seungyeon Choi.
Although Hong Kong has made some improvements in legislation regarding smoking in public, there’s still a long way to go. This is largely because of people who smoke on busy streets in areas like Central, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Mong Kok. There is a surprising number of people smoking on busy streets, while waiting for bus or car, before entering buildings, and even while walking. At the intersection of Percival Street and Lockhart Road, one of the busiest areas in Causeway Bay with a scramble crosswalk, seven were spotted to be smoking while walking from 6:25 pm to 6:30 pm today (20th Mar). These people exhale smoke and force others around them, young and old alike, to inhale second-hand smoke.
Leslie Lee, a 29-year-old businessman who has been living in Hong Kong for 18 years as a non-smoker, has continuously seen people smoking on busy streets. He says, “I find it disturbing when they (smokers) walk and smoke at the same time in that giant crowd of people. They are blowing smoke into the faces of everyone else’ in a ten-foot ring behind them, which makes everyone including kids, elderly, and people with asthmatic diseases feel uncomfortable. What’s more? Lingering smoke odor remains with you.”
The negative effects of smoking on the streets are not restricted to the smokers because second-hand smoking is as detrimental to health as smoking in person. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, even brief exposure to second-hand smoke is harmful to health and approximately 2,500,000 non-smokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to second-hand smoke since 1964. According to their research, second-hand smoke can cause children ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath), respiratory infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) and greater risk for a sudden infant death syndrome. Second-hand smoke can also cause adults heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke. Knowing the dangers of second-hand smoking, Hong Kong government should also ban smoking on busy streets.
Typical Pedestrian Smoking While Walking in Causeway Bay. Video by Seungyeon Choi.
Smoking ban in public including smoking on busy streets should be more fully enforced in Hong Kong during both day and night shifts compared to what has been done up till now. There have been foreign examples such as the South Korean government who rigidly enforce a smoking ban in public including smoking on busy streets. Then where do smokers in South Korea smoke? They are only allowed to smoke in specifically designated smoking booths and smoking areas so that’s where they do.
Typical Pedestrian Holding Lit Cigarette While Crossing Crosswalk in Causeway Bay. Video by Seungyeon Choi.
Any legislation is no worth when it’s not comprehensive nor strictly enforced. In Hong Kong, building smoking booths might not be feasible since smoking booths needs spaces while Hong Kong is a packed city. However, Hong Kong can still design smoking areas. If smokers have to move to certain places to smoke, the overall smoking percentage might decrease as well. Even if it doesn’t, it better protects those non-smokers on busy streets from second-hand smoke: children won’t have to inhale second-hand smoke that might cause them respiratory symptoms while waiting for a school bus every morning and non-smokers won’t have to get irritated with second-hand smoke that might cause them lung cancer while going to a mall for shopping or to a restaurant for dinner.