Non-smoking in Hong Kong

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After returning to the mainland from Hong Kong, I’m particularly nostalgic seeing the photo of the bin at the entrance of the hotel. Over the week I spent in Hong Kong, that bin had become my “buddy”; sometimes, I even went downstairs in the middle of the night to visit it. The reason was not the bin itself, but that this was the corner I most smoked in Hong Kong.



Before I even cleared customs, I felt the strength of the smoking ban in Hong Kong. Before the departure, I did not know that every passenger can only carry 19 cigarettes through customs (or need to pay taxtes). In a panic, all I could do was “offer” a few packs I had on me to my fellow travellers, as well as open the boxes, and extract a cigarette from each. Later, a friend told me it really happened to someone that, because they were carrying a whole box of cigarettes through customs, but did not go through the red channel, then, miserable looking, had to give money to the “fishermen” at the customs. A few people will ask, should you just throw the cigarette away then? It doesn’t work. Or not pay the tax? It works even less.



After clearing customs, because I didn’t have a lighter on me, I had no way to smoke until I reached the hotel. It took me seven whole hours, from 8 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, before I finally found a lighter at a convenience store. So I said very proudly to the shop-keeper: “Give me three lighters!” The person on the other side replied: “you want to many, what for?” In fact, it was just excitement. But wait a minute, having a lighter does not mean you can smoke. Hong Kong has fully implemented the smoking ban, and offenders risk a maximum fine of $5000 HK. Finally, I got out of the subway, and found a bin in a corner. This was a place where smoking was allowed.



After customs and in the car to the hotel, the staff at the reception announced a number of items to pay attention to, and he repeated a number of time in his instructions that you couldn’t smoke anywhere. This point, you could easily realise from the notices posted on the bins. Don’t think that, just because you see one of these 楞头楞脑 looking bins, you can smoke next to it. If there is no stainless steel ashtray on the top, or if the ashtray is sealed, 打了个叉叉, then you can’t smoke either. And on the bins next to which it is allowed to smoke, there are notices to remind you that you cannot throw your cigarette butts on the floor or inside the bin (meanwhile, I was about to collapse), or you would get a $1500 fine. But your shouldn’t be sad for that, another notice reminds you that, if you throw your cigarette pack or other litter on the ground, you risk a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and six months of imprisonment.



Such a severe penalty means that people in Hong Kong don’t dare to smoke just anywhere. But the light, so to speak, has not yet reached the root: on the one hand, you need a public which is generally aware and respectful of the law, so that people can smoothly respect smoking ban regulations; on the other hand, precisely because law enforcement is strict, and there is no accommodation, the relevant laws and regulations are unquestionably valid. Not to mention that Hong Kong applies the same treatment to visitors. If you once dare to break the law, just wait and see next time you apply for a visitor’s card. What’s clear behind all this is that the key lies in equal law enforcement. If law enforcement is fair, and there’s no way to evade it, then the best method is to choose unconditional compliance.



Would it work to transplant this set of stringent regulations to the mainland? I imagine the following problems might occur. The first is, because public consciousness is not strong, the target of the regulations is too large, and the regulation may just die of its own natural death; the second is, if someone breaks the rule, they will do everything they can to find an aunt or a cousin, and go through a whole list of relations, so that the regulation will end up being null and void through lack of impartiality. This is actually the fate encountered by some good regulations on the mainland.



But that does not mean that the Hong Kong tobacco ban cannot be copied. Smoking control in Hong Kong is so successful because actions are really taken. Whether actions are really taken or not will lead to different results. In the government really acts, then the public may really act too. And if the public really act, then regulations are really implemented. And if regulations are really enforced, then offenders may stop. Therefore, even if the mainland cannot enforce such high fines, it’s worth learning from and imitating the spirit and practice of really taking action. I don’t know if readers have seen the movie “Love in a puff”, in the film, three to five people gather at a street corner to smoke, and this is a real Hong Kong scene.



This is the experience of a smoker in Hong Kong who consciously respected all smoking regulations. Of course, what I’m saying here may not be just about tobacco control.



2012, 14 June.

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]