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Lollipops send out the wrong smoke signals

Popular lollipop Chupa Chups' cigarette-like packaging has drawn the ire of anti-smoking groups, who fear it could desensitize teenagers to the harmful effects of smoking.

Chupa Chups' "Relax" is a pack of six made-in-Vietnam lollipops. They are in a red-and- white rectangular box the size of a Marlboro cigarette pack.

The packaging also includes the promise of "6 moments of pleasure" and claims "It is a fun and tasty alternative to smoking."

The packing has become familiar in local convenience stores since July last year and also sells in the same form in the United States, Malaysia and Singapore among other places.

Li Cheong-lung, chief executive of the Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention, warned: "Candy products that mimic packaging of tobacco brands allow children to respond to tobacco advertising long before they are mature enough to smoke."

And lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong also fears its potential impact.

Young people "may blindly play with these edible `toys' and think it is cool to imitate adult behavior," he said.

Chewing on the lollipop can be considered "a benign parody" of cigarette smoking.

A spokeswoman for the distributor of the candy, IDS Hong Kong, told The Standard: "We use handy and funny packaging to attract office ladies as our consumers. We don't worry about a negative impact on teens because we're not selling cigarettes.

"When the product was imported for local sale, we modified the original design widely used in Europe to look less like a real tobacco product."

The company was aware that candy cigarettes is a sensitive subject in Hong Kong, she said.

Countries including Britain, Australia and Canada restrict candy cigarette sales.

There is no ban in Hong Kong, but tobacco companies are restricted in their forms of advertising.

The Department of Health's Tobacco Control Office applied further pressure on the industry last month by ordering plain packaging to deglamorize smoking by removing a packet's recognizable colors and logos.

The chairman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, Lisa Lau Man-man, said it seems packaging does affect people's urge to smoke.

But the government is unlikely to extend restrictions to cigarette- look-alike confectionery because the category is simply too broad, she said.

Also, the manufacturers of candy cigarettes or cigar chocolate can "easily modify packaging to a legally acceptable design."

Data from the Census and Statistics Department for last year shows 676,900 people smoking cigarettes daily, and 10,500 of them were aged under 19.

Source: The Standard