HKUMed welcomes the approval of the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2019

The LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong (HKUMed) has long been at the forefront of the campaign for tobacco control, with aims to protect our city from the irreversible harms of tobacco consumption. HKUMed welcomes the approval of the “Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2019”, which marks a significant milestone for the progress of public health in Hong Kong.

Let’s take a look back at the many scholars at HKUMed who have together contributed to making this milestone possible.

The late Professor Anthony Hedley (1941-2014), was appointed Chair Professor of Community Medicine at The University of Hong Kong in 1988, and was the chairman of the Hong Kong Council On Smoking and Health from 1997 to 2002. Professor Hedley had campaigned for over two decades against smoking and air pollution, and played an instrumental role in drawing focus of officials and lawmakers to policies on tobacco control. Together with Professor Lam Tai-hing, their team conducted a study in 1988 and found that smoking and passive smoking killed nearly 7,000 people in Hong Kong, and cost huge losses to productivity and healthcare expenditure. The local data combined with the quantification of such costs arising from tobacco consumption provided strong motivation for legislative action on smoke-free areas in the Asia-Pacific region. Another study by Professor Hedley investigated passive smoking in the catering industry and found increased risks for heart disease and lung cancer in restaurant workers stationed in establishments that allowed indoor smoking, lending greater support to the harms of passive smoking. More importantly, it laid the scientific foundations upon which the eventual 2007 bill on the ban of indoor smoking was built. Last but not least, Professor Hedley was commissioned by the Hong Kong Police Force to conduct a study which demonstrated smoking as being far more harmful than air pollution amongst police officers.

Professor Lam Tai-hing, Sir Robert Kotewall Professor in Public Health, has also dedicated much efforts into researching benefits of tobacco control on public health; he has published more than 250 papers in international peer reviewed journals on the topic, and has made influential contributions to public health and tobacco control. Over the past 30 years, his research has greatly benefited global communities, and has been instrumental in pushing for increase in taxation for tobacco products as well as policies for the complete ban of indoor smoking. These policies have gone on to play a key role in the fall of the city’s smoking rates, bringing it down to the lowest in the developed world. Aside from bringing the general public’s awareness to the harms of smoking through studies on passive smoking, Professor Lam’s research also focused on developing strategies for smoking cessation; in collaboration with Professor Sophia Chan, incumbent Secretary for Food and Health, they were the first to develop and test smoking cessation interventions in the region. As part of the programme, over 1,000 smoking cessation counsellors and ambassadors were trained, with pilot or demonstration smoking cessation clinics set up in Hong Kong and Mainland China to highlight cost-effective ways to help people quit smoking. Their pioneering Youth Quitline has helped many young smokers quit smoking, while the trial evidence and successes have also resulted in the government allocating more resources to smoking cessation services.

On the other hand, Professor Sophia Chan, former Head of the School of Nursing, has long focused her work on tobacco control, and carried out many studies on tobacco rehabilitation therapy as well as the effects of second-hand smoke on infants and young children. In 2009, she became a member of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, and was responsible for creating the city’s first Smoking Counselling and Cessation Programme. During her time as a consultant for the World Health Organization, she also advised on training programmes for healthcare professionals in carrying out tobacco dependency treatment interventions through advocacy and education. Since being appointed Secretary for Food and Health, she has further pushed for the bill on the complete ban on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

Dr Kelvin Wang, Associate Professor at the School of Nursing, has also worked tirelessly towards tobacco control in Hong Kong. Many of his research projects have garnered attention locally, including a study on new intervention methods via chat-based instant messaging support which was found to substantially enhance smokers’ quitting rate, as well as a study which found that nicotine replacement therapy and referral to a local cessation service can effectively help fathers-to-be quit smoking. These findings have since been published in JAMA Internal Medicine and The Lancet respectively.

In addition, a research team led by Professor Michael Ni, Clinical Associate Professor at the School of Public Health under Division of Community Medicine and Public Health Practice, and Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine, recently published a paper in The Lancet Public Health highlighting Hong Kong’s achievement as the city with the world’s highest life expectancy for the seventh year and counting, and identifying tobacco control as a key driver of this achievement.

‘We are thankful to the Hong Kong Government, the Legislative Council and legislators, the medical, education and social welfare sectors, patient groups, parent-teacher associations and many others for their tremendous support. Today, however, only marks an important step in the right direction. There are still a lot to do before we could build Hong Kong as a truly healthy city free from tobacco and nicotine. We hope that the Hong Kong Government would soon increase tobacco tax, which is the most effective way of reducing smoking prevalence and preventing youth smoking,’ said Professor Lam.

‘As we continue to strive towards a tobacco-free world, we also understand that it is a path that will inevitably present many obstacles along the way. Yet, the safeguarding of community health will always remain a central ethos of HKUMed, and that is a mission that our academics will continue to uphold. It is especially crucial now that we work in tandem with support from the general public to one day achieve the aspiration of a smoke-free city,’ said Professor Leung.