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Hong Kong phooey

I was invited by RTHK Radio 3 in Hong Kong to take part in a discussion about smoking and whether it should be banned in all outdoor areas.

It would be broadcast live, they said, between 8.30 and 9.00am, which translates as 12.30 to 1.00am in the UK.

That was last night. In the event the discussion went on until 1.30. It was prompted, they said, by an article in a Hong Kong newspaper headlined 'Workers face demands for smoking ban outside offices'.

Office workers who smoke near the entrances to their buildings make the air quality more than three times worse, researchers found. And there are now calls in Hong Kong for the ban on smoking inside workplaces to be extended to the immediate area outside.

The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit in Canada measured pollution levels in a busy street in downtown Toronto when no smokers were around. Then they compared them with measurements outside 28 entrances to office buildings in the same area when workers were smoking.

The density of PM2.5 air pollutant particles was more than three times higher when up to four people were smoking within nine metres of building entrances. And the density was 20 times higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline figure for "clean" air.

Toronto researcher Dr Pamela Kaufman said: "Exposure to smoking at entrances to buildings tends to be brief and transient ... [but] there is  increasing scientific evidence that even short-term exposure can result in adverse health effects for people with sensitive cardiovascular and respiratory systems."

She urged governments to consider banning smoking within nine metres of building entrances.

Professor Lam Tai-hing, director of the University of Hong Kong's school of public health, agreed. "Even when people move outdoors to smoke, the pollutants can still be blown back indoors."

He said the level of pollutants would be especially high in the busy streets of Hong Kong, where many people smoked in narrow alleys surrounded by tall buildings, which were badly ventilated. Lam said he fully supported a smoking ban outside building entrances.

"Many non-smokers need to pass through entrances of office buildings daily. If there is a ban, they would not be forced to inhale toxic smoke," he said.

Clear The Air committee chairman James Middleton also supported the idea of making building entrances smoke-free zones.

He noted that the ventilation ducts of many buildings were right above entrances. It meant that even when smokers stood outside, the second-hand smoke was still sucked indoors.

My fellow guests last night were Prof Lam Tai-hing, quoted above, and Dr Kwok Ka Ki. Honestly, there was no debating with these people. As far as they are concerned tobacco smoke is toxic and even the slightest exposure is dangerous to non-smokers.

The presenters tried to play devil's advocate but refused to accept anything I said about passive smoking because I am not a "medical expert", unlike Dr Ka Ki and Prof Tai-hing.

My argument that we shouldn't believe everything we hear from so-called "experts" fell on death ears. Talk about banging your head against a brick wall.

All in all, it was a rather tiring way to end a long day.

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Reader Comments (7)

I despair. Thanks Simon. I think sometimes it's easier to throw in the towel than to keep wasting energy this way on bigots who just don't want to know.

How did we let it get to this?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 11:53 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

The presenters refused to accept anything Simon said about passive smoking because he is not a "medical expert", unlike Dr Ka Ki and Prof Tai-hing.

But what Simon is saying, along with more and more people now, is that the so called "facts" concerning passive smoking, need debating, challenging, and most importantly, proving!

Dr Ka Ki and his colleague, Professor Lam Tai-hing, director of the University of Hong Kong's school of public health, agreed. that even when people move outdoors to smoke, the pollutants can still be blown back indoors.

They said the level of pollutants would be especially high in the busy streets of Hong Kong, where many people smoked in narrow alleys surrounded by tall buildings, which were badly ventilated. They went onto say that they fully supported a smoking ban outside building entrances because of this.

This is strange, because just a few days ago, the same Professor Lam Tai-hing, said: "Visibility in Hong Kong has deteriorated so sharply over the last 50 years because of air pollution that variations in levels can even be used to predict mortality rates". "The less you can see, the greater the harm. It is very important to believe in your eyes because at the moment, the government is still using outdated air quality objectives. While the amount of particulates in places like Vancouver and Auckland measured between 10 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, Hong Kong had 80, or seven times more.

This has absolutely nothing to do with smoking or the "terrible toxic content" of secondary smoke. This is sheer pollution, caused by traffic and industry!

"Loss of visibility is a direct measure of serious harm to health. Loss of visibility kills people," said another of their colleagues, Anthony Hedley, Honorary Professor at the School of Public Health.

"The higher the pollutant concentrations, the lower the visibility," Hedley said, adding that even short exposure to such pollutants was particularly dangerous for those suffering from underlying heart or lung illnesses.

So why were these so called experts afraid to debate with Simon, or anyone else for that matter, and what is their real objective?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 12:24 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Thurgood

I don't know what the smoking rate is in China but I bet it's quite high. So it's hard to imagine that banning smoking in all outdoor spaces in Hong Kong will work, if (and I don't know) they already have an extensive indoor ban. Where would that leave? Home?

My only experiences of Chinese smokers has been at an exhibition in Paris. The French had just launched their ban, but all the attendees and standholders from China just ignored it. When security arrived to tell the stallholders to stop smoking, they told them to f**k off (in English, the common language).

In the end the righteous will over-reach themselves and we'll see Tunisia around the world!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 12:40 | Unregistered CommenterChris

I really need to do some research into this and have definitve answers to the actual science. However I did catch one of Glantz and Banzhaf's apologists, James Repace misleading the readers of the BMJ. What is worse is that the figures I quote were referenced from the American EPA. Repace quoted the figure of 15mg to the American courts which is correct but annually. As a former EPA employee for 7 years he should of known it and far higher concentrations are safe for less time.

I have had a quick review of your documentation (1)and frankly there appear to be some serious deficiencies. You state reasonable fairly that the accepted EPA figures are 15mg/m3. (2) Alas that is the annual figure. So 24 hours a day, 365 days a week that is an acceptable figure, you however omit to mention is that the 24 hour acceptable level is 35mg/m3, only recently reduced from 65mg/m3. In your example of the casino, are you saying customers at a casino sit on their chairs 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year? How did this omission come about?

Also, expecially if assume that tending to infinite exposure to PM2.5, tending to zero time gives you the starting off point, a curve that is heavily, inversely logarithmic would strongly suggest that the figures for 12, 6, 4 and 1 hour would be well in excess of 90, 300, 600, and 2000 respectively. So there is every probabilty that 15 hours or less in that casino would be perfectly safe at your quoted 75mg/m3 level.

Let us consider just one from Gori and Mantel.

Methylchloride 0.88 0.30 1,170

To get to a level of PM2.5 at the threshold level of 35mg for a 24 hour level you would need to be exposed to 116.67 smokers. And let me remind you, the person would have to be there for 24 hours.

You said that "They (smoker's rights groups) quote pseudo-scientific arguments." I guess you are just continuing the history of cheap ad hominens that we have come to expect from pharmaceutical funded, tax free pressure groups.

In conclusion I think Prof Repace has added nothing to the debate except the ability to sail very close to the wind on scientific matters and the .

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 12:45 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

It seems to me that it's only ever a question of who they believe and what side they are on. Everything else they ignore.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 15:15 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Meh. As far as they're concerned, you ARE an expert.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 18:55 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

It would make sense for you, Simon, to think that any opportunity to defend 'freedom-to-choose' is better than none. But, is it not true that there are occasions on which you are not given a fair hearing? In fact, is it not true that there are occasions upon which you are a mere punchbag (for lack of a better description)?

In the circumstances that you describe, you were obviously set up as the fall guy. I did not hear the discussion, so I do not know what transpired, but, if as you say your opinions were not accepted because you were not a 'medical expert', then the competence of the 'medical experts' could have been called to account as regards the PHYSICS of smoke dissipating in the air. Just a thought.

I do not know what your 'superiors' expect of you, but if they had any sense, then they would understand that you might have to comment in a very simple way. That is, you may have to say, "My comment is that SHS is a fraud, pure and simple. One does not have to be a Doctor to see this. It is pure propaganda. And that is my comment. Do not say that I refused to comment." Just say it and put the phone down. Even better, would be to say, "This matter is so silly that I refuse to get involved, and that is my comment".

Hard, init?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:03 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

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