From: Reuters
Published January 2, 2008 08:32 AM

Public smoking ban fails to extinguish Hong Kong habit

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong smokers have been lighting up 12 million more cigarettes a month since the city imposed a public-smoking ban a year ago, a newspaper said on Wednesday.

Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department said it had collected duty on an average of 289.6 million cigarettes monthly in 2007, compared with 278 million per month in 2006.

The figures suggest that Hong Kong people were smoking 12 million more cigarettes a month, despite a ban on January 1 last year on smoking in most public places.

"I think the smoking ban can prevent second-hand smoke in public places ... but to motivate people to quit, the government still has a long way to go," medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.

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The anti-smoking laws brought Hong Kong, a city of seven million, in line with several countries that have banned smoking in most public places. Germany and France introduced bans on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong ban isn't absolute, with more than 800 bars, saunas, nightclubs and mahjong parlors granted exemptions till mid-2009, drawing fire from anti-smoking campaigners.

Hong Kong's growing population and the low price of cigarettes were cited as factors for increased tobacco use.

"The price of cigarettes and tobacco has not increased for seven years," Anthony Hedley, an anti-smoking campaigner with the University of Hong Kong, told the Post.

Hong Kong has around 840,000 smokers according to government figures.

Smokers in China, which took back control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, are the world's most enthusiastic, with a growing market of more than 300 million making it a magnet for cigarette companies.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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