Hong Kong’s health chief has proposed an unconventional approach to discourage smoking in public areas where it is prohibited.
Look of disapproval: During a meeting of the Legislative Council’s health service panel on Friday, Health Secretary Professor Lo Chung-mau suggested that the public should take matters into their own hands and stare at anyone who lights up a cigarette in the designated non-smoking areas.
According to Lo, staring down smokers creates social pressure that would discourage them from violating the smoking ban. “
When members of the public see people smoking in non-smoking areas, even if no law enforcement officers can show up immediately, we can stare at the smokers,” he said.
He drew a parallel with the cultural norm of queuing for buses, suggesting that a similar culture of compliance could be built around smoking rules.
Glaring problem: Current Hong Kong regulations prohibit smoking in certain outdoor public areas as well as inside public establishments, such as restaurants and workplaces.
Breaking the current smoking regulations may result in a fine of up to 1,500 Hong Kong dollars (approximately $192). However, enforcing these rules has proven challenging, with police officers struggling to catch smokers in the act. Lo acknowledged that law enforcement efforts need to be improved, noting that in most cases, offenders evade getting penalized by stopping the offense before the police arrive.
The Hong Kong government is considering several additional measures to curb smoking, including a potential ban on tobacco sales to individuals born after a specific year and a substantial increase in cigarette taxes.
Smokers in Hong Kong: According to a 2022 report from the region’s Census and Statistics Department, 9.5% of the local population aged 15 and above — or about 581,000 people — are daily conventional cigarette smokers. The figure represents a drop from 10.2% in 2019.