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UV ABC Everyone knows that the sun emits UV radiation, which is invisible. But do you know that UV radiation can be further divided into UVA, UVB, and UVC according to its wavelength? UVC and a large portion of UVB are absorbed by the earth's atmosphere, so most of the UV rays that reach the earth are UVA and, to a lesser extent, UVB. UVA and UVB can cause different problems to the skin Although sun exposure can help the body in producing vitamin D which makes bones stronger and reduces the chance of fractures, excessive exposure to the sun may bring adverse effects. In fact, a few minutes of sun exposure per day is already sufficient to generate vitamin D. Furthermore, vitamin D can also be supplemented through daily diet. For example, salmon, tuna and other types of deep-sea fish contain vitamin D. Excessive exposure to UV radiation can cause various skin problems: e.g. UVA can cause wrinkles, skin ageing and darkening, and may even lead to skin cancer. UVB (which has a higher energy level) can damage the DNA on the skin surface and cause sunburn which is also one of the main causes of skin cancer! To avoid sunburn, learn to read the UV index! We often hear the weather anchor mentioning the UV index (UVI) during the daily weather report, but how much do you know about this index? UVI is a measure of the amount of skin-damaging UV radiation on a particular day. The higher the UVI, the greater the potential for damage to the skin and eyes, and the less time it takes for harm to occur. According to the guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), UVI is reported using a scale of 1 to 11+, and is divided into 5 exposure levels: Low, Moderate, High, Very High and Extreme. Among them, UVIs 1 and 2 are “Low” and UVI 11+ is “Extreme”. According to the data provided by the Hong Kong Observatory, Hong Kong’s daytime UVI during summer season generally exceeds 10, which reaches ”Very High” or even “Extreme” level. Therefore, we have to pay heed to sun protection during summer season to avoid potential skin damage. Most people often overlook the need for sun protection during autumn and winter months when the exposure level is either “Moderate” or “High”. In fact, it is equally important to avoid prolonged outdoor activities during daytime when the level is at “High” or above. During daytime, we should always apply sunscreen and wear a wide brimmed hat for protection! Sun protection is necessary to prevent skin cancer There is often a misconception that only Caucasians may develop skin cancer, and that skin cancer is not common in Hong Kong. In fact, skin cancer is one of the most common cancers, and the number of cases worldwide is increasing. Even in Hong Kong, the number of new cases found is also rising. According to the statistics published by the Hong Kong Cancer Registry in 2017, skin cancer ranked 7th most common cancer in Hong Kong. Among the new cancer cases recorded in 2017 alone, 3.6% of the cases are skin cancer. The 3 most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (both are non-melanoma skin cancer), as well as melanoma. People who are often exposed to the sun are at high risk of developing these 3 types of skin cancer. Occasional sun exposure may not lead to skin cancer? The truth is, every occasion counts! If the skin is exposed to the sun twice and develops blisters due to overexposure to radiation, the relative risk of developing melanoma is 1.7 (a relative risk of 1 means the risk is neither higher nor lower). 3 consecutive times of sun exposure with blisters will increase the relative risk to 3.8! At the same time, the effect of UV radiation on the skin is actually accumulative. Don't be tricked into thinking that only sunburn may lead to skin cancer. Although melanin will be produced to protect our skin when we are exposed to the sun, this protection is only equivalent to applying a sunscreen of SPF 4. The irony is that people want to have a suntan thinking that it symbolizes healthiness, but the suntan means that the skin tissues might have already been damaged. Even without sunburn on skin surface, the risk of contracting skin cancer has already increased! Is it safer to use a tanning bed? Some people may want to get a suntan using a tanning bed, thinking that staying indoors is safer and more convenient than exposing under the sun outside. But in fact, the skin is also exposed to both UVA and UVB when using a tanning bed. As mentioned above, these 2 types of UV radiation can cause skin ageing and may lead to skin cancer! How to reduce the risk of skin cancer? Apply sunscreen products “Remember to put on sunscreen!" - it is a kind reminder we often hear. However, not everyone knows how to choose the right sunscreen products. Do you know that sunscreen products can be divided into 3 types: physical, chemical and mixed? And do you know their differences? When buying sunscreen products, SPF is not the only factor to consider. For further information on how to choose an effective sunscreen product, please refer to the article “Choose the Right Sunscreen Products — Beyond SPF value”. Check the UVI before determining the activities for the day As mentioned earlier, UVI indicates the intensity of UV radiation and how much damage it may cause to the skin. On days when the UVI is high (6 or above), you should avoid staying outdoors for a long time in order to minimize the sun exposure time and avoid direct sunlight to the eyes. If you have to engage in outdoor activities for a prolonged period of time, especially during water sport activities, you should apply waterproof sunscreen with appropriate Sun Protection Factor (SPF) value to your body and face and reapply every 2 hours to prevent sunburn. More sun protection measures In addition to applying sunscreen products, you can also wear a wide brimmed hat, dark colour loose outfits with long sleeves to protect ourselves from the radiation. At the same time, try to stay in a shaded area or use an umbrella to avoid direct sun exposure. Wear sunglasses that can block UV radiation to protect your eyes. Learn more about sun protective clothing Generally speaking, any outfit that can cover the skin can achieve some degree of UV protection. Some clothing, however, has a higher protective function, including the following: Specially treated sun protective clothing Many sport outfits have been specially treated to enhance the degree of protection against UV radiation. These outfits are marked with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) values, which indicate how much UVA and UVB are allowed to penetrate. For example, clothing marked with UPF50 can block 98% of sun rays, thereby reducing the risk of sunburn. Dark coloured clothes are more effective in sun protection Dark coloured clothes are more effective in blocking UV radiation than light coloured ones. Generally speaking, the darker the colour, the more UV radiation can be absorbed, thus providing better protection to the skin. Densely-woven fabric Densely-woven fabrics, such as denim, canvas, wool or synthetic fibers, can more effectively block UV radiation than thin or loosely-woven fabrics. You can do a simple check on the level of light transmittance of the fabric under the sun. If the level of light transmittance is high, then UV radiation can easily penetrate the fabric and reach the skin. Don’t forget to check out the guide on how to select sunscreen products. Click here to read the article, “Choose the Right Sunscreen Products — Beyond SPF value”. The Consumer Council previously tested 30 models of sunscreen products on the market to check their sun protection efficacy and to find out which products are more cost-effective. For more information, please refer to the article, “Over 80% of Sunscreen Performed Below their Labelled Efficacy 6 Models Outperform But Price Can Vary By 23 Times”, CHOICE Magazine, Issue 528 (Chinese Version Only).
Rediscover "Caffeine" Why is it called "caffeine"? Coffee can reinvigorate the mind, relieve fatigue and energise the body. All these effects are brought about by "caffeine". Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Through stimulating the CNS, one can feel refreshed and become more focused. However, excessive intake will cause side effects such as an increase in heart rate and anxiety. In fact, caffeine is not unique to coffee. It can also be found in tea, cocoa and other plants. It is named “caffeine” as it was first discovered in coffee. After its discovery, caffeine has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. Nowadays caffeine can be found in all types of drinks, such as Coke, milk tea, lemon tea, and even some chrysanthemum tea and sports drinks, giving consumers a boost of energy after consumption. Help! I might be a little addicted... The “love affair” with caffeine has made people focus only on the good aspect, such as its refreshing effect, but ignore the potential downside that it can be addictive. But as long as you avoid excessive intake, you can still enjoy coffee with peace of mind. Health organisations around the world have yet to suggest a universal standard for appropriate intake level, but children, adolescents, and people who suffer from high blood pressure, arrhythmia, mental illness, neurological diseases, and certain liver and kidney diseases, as well as women who are breastfeeding should pay attention to their intake level. Pregnant women are advised to limit their daily caffeine intake to no more than 200-300mg. If you find yourself becoming dependent on caffeine, it may be time to cut down. Instead of stopping abruptly, you can try to gradually reduce the amount, or replace it with "decaffeinated" coffee first! Weak coffee might not contain less caffeine It is more difficult than you think to figure out the caffeine content. Want to drink coffee without consuming too much caffeine? Many people tend to avoid drinking dark, bitter coffee. However, the strength of taste does not necessarily reflect the caffeine content. Consumers should not “guesstimate” the caffeine content purely based on the taste. Food labels may not have the right information on caffeine Have you noticed that the word “caffeine” pops up on the food labels of many energy drinks, but cannot be found on coffee products? It is because under Hong Kong legislation, only non-naturally occurring ingredients need to be listed. As caffeine exists naturally in coffee, there is no need for extra disclosure. Furthermore, food and beverages sold in Hong Kong do not need to disclose their caffeine content. If you belong to the high-risk groups mentioned above, then remember to pay extra attention! A Must-have for Urban Espresso Lovers: Automatic Espresso Machines Select an espresso machine carefully to make that perfect cup of espresso Want to enjoy the indulgent aroma and taste of fresh coffee both at work and at home? Maybe it is time to invest in an espresso machine! Espresso machines have many functions nowadays, and some even have a milk frother, just like a self-contained mini café in itself! In addition to the flavour of the espresso, other deciding factors include the speed of the machine, energy efficiency, drip, etc. Espresso machines can generally be divided into 3 categories: Semi-automatic: Only ground coffee can be used. It involves a more manual process, such as grinding coffee beans, loading the portafilter, and tamping. Coffee enthusiasts could really enjoy the process given the high level of customisation and hands-on experience. Fully automatic: Coffee beans are placed into the machine, which grinds the coffee beans into powder then brews fresh espresso. This option offers a balance between convenience and enjoyment. Pod / capsule coffee machines: This type of coffee machine uses pre-packaged pods or capsules. You can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee by simply inserting the pod / capsule and pressing a button. It is the most convenient option though it does not offer much room for customisation. Putting the same beans into different espresso machines may produce vastly different results. For example, the temperature and aroma could vary a lot. No wonder the price range of espresso machines runs the gamut from below $1,000 to over $10,000. Before buying an espresso machine, you may want to read the article “Speed of Espresso Machines Could Vary by 3 Times” from CHOICE Magazine, Issue 504. The Consumer Council tested a number of popular espresso machines, which will hopefully help you to select your ideal model to make that perfect cup! “Convenience” vs “Environment” – Make the right choice today Nowadays, capsule espresso machines are becoming increasingly popular. However, at least 1 capsule is used for every cup of espresso, which is indeed not environmentally friendly. In fact, not all capsules are made of plastic — some are made of aluminium. The former cannot be recycled, but the latter can! Consumers can bring the used aluminium capsules back to the stores or to have them collected during the next delivery. If you opt for plastic capsules, then at least don’t waste the coffee grounds after use. Similar to ordinary coffee grounds, these residues have many uses (especially as a deodorizer) and can be recycled. Much like activated carbon, these coffee grounds are porous. Once dried, they can be used to absorb moisture and deodorize, and are ideal for shoe cabinets or refrigerators. If your kitchen sink and drain pipes have an unpleasant or greasy smell, instead of using chemical products, you may try sprinkling coffee grounds in the sink and rinse with running water. For more espresso machine reviews and tips, please refer to the article, “Espresso Made by Some Espresso Machines are Not Hot Enough” from CHOICE Magazine, Issue 457. Watch Out! Energy Drinks May Have a Higher Caffeine Content than Coffee! Energy drinks and sports drinks are different For those who don't like coffee but are in need of an energy boost, "energy drinks" are considered by many as good substitutes. Do you know that energy drinks are different from sports drinks, and that consuming energy drinks during physical exercise may pose health risks? Energy drinks usually contain caffeine. In some instances, a bottle of energy drink may contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee. Although they can increase alertness and augment physical performance, one must pay attention during consumption. On the other hand, sports drinks usually contain electrolytes which help replenish water and electrolytes lost during exercise, and are generally caffeine-free. Although many stores put these 2 types of drinks next to each other, they are actually very different. Sports drinks can’t boost energy. If you’re tired in the office, sports drinks will not help. On the other hand, energy drinks are not intended for consumption during exercise. It can even be counterproductive and prevent the body from performing at its best. Misconception: Energy drinks are energy boosters Don't be fooled by the name! The word "energy" does not translate to "calories" in a nutritional sense. Instead, caffeine is added for a rapid energy boost. However, caffeine cannot eliminate fatigue during exercise. Instead, it can dehydrate and hinder the body's recovery process, making the body “energy-less”. The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) recommended consumers to avoid consuming energy drinks during physical exercises to prevent people with genetic conditions from having severe adverse reactions or heart failures. In addition to caffeine, these energy drinks are often loaded with sugar. If you want to pick the right drink to boost performance, you may want to read the article “Energy Drinks Contain Caffeine and Sugar. 1 Cup of Coffee is Equivalent to 10 Sugar Cubes” from CHOICE Magazine, Issue 451.
Widening gap between pump price and crude oil price / import price The Consumer Council has always been concerned and monitoring the impact of local auto-fuel prices on consumers. After reviewing the data over the past 7 years from 2013 to Q1 2020, we have observed the following: Average pump price vs. Brent crude oil price: the highest and lowest monthly price gap has widened by 85.2% Average pump price vs. import price: the highest and lowest monthly price gap has been increased by 107.9% In the past 7 years, the gaps between the pump price and both of Brent crude oil and import prices have widened. For example in March 2020, although Brent crude oil price and import price returned to the same price level in Q1 2016, and with the same auto-fuel tax and stable auto-fuel demand, the pump price still increased by more than HK$3 per litre. Any sign of “Quick Going Up, Slow Coming Down”? The Government has been emphasizing that it has urged oil companies to reduce their retail prices as soon as international oil prices fall. According to the data collected, we can see that from January to April 2020, oil companies had decreased auto-fuel prices for 11-13 times. During this period, international oil prices had significant fluctuation since March, and oil companies did adjust their prices more frequently than before (in total 7-9 times), the "Quick Going Up, Slow Coming Down" phenomenon did not appear to exist during this period. A clear sign of “More Going Up, Less Coming Down ” Using the data from 2013 to Q1 2020, we have compared the cumulative change in pump price and the cumulative changes in Brent crude oil price and import price over the 7-year period, and found that: Cumulative changes in pump price vs Brent crude oil price: during price drop, the reduction in pump price per litre was $2.4 “less”; and during price hike, the rise in pump price was $1.99 “more” Cumulative changes in pump price vs import price: during price drop, the reduction in pump price per litre was $0.68 “less”; and during price hike, the rise in pump price was $3.09 “more” According to the data, except for 2014, sign of “More Going Up, Less Coming Down" in pump price was observed over the 7 years. High conformity in pump price across oil companies Looking at the database again, in the past 7 years, percentage of days that all the 5 oil companies having the same pump price was generally on an upward trend and had reached a historical high of 92.3% in Q1 2020. Is auto-fuel really so expensive? Even that the international crude oil prices remain depressed and there are Government’s efforts in promoting competition, such as changing the tendering system of petrol filling station (PFS) sites in 2003 to make it easier for new entrants to scale up their operation more quickly, why then the pump prices in Hong Kong have not dropped accordingly, but instead have edged up conversely? According to the oil companies, the 2 major reasons are as follows: • Other operating costs: Import price is only one of the factors in determining the retail price. Other costs / expenses such as discounts, insurance, land costs, government rates, transportation, and inflation, etc., have yet to be reflected. Therefore, the range of pump price adjustment may not necessarily follow closely with the changes in international crude oil prices. Some companies specifically pointed out that the rise in the bid price of PFS sites in recent years has increased the operating costs of PFSs; • Lack of local oil refinery facilities: All auto-fuel products sold in Hong Kong are imported as refined products, not crude oil. Crude oil and refined products (such as unleaded gasoline and auto-fuel diesel etc.) are very much different. Therefore, changes in international crude oil prices and local auto-fuel prices may not necessarily be in tandem. But here comes the dubiety…... From public records, we observed that the bid prices of PFS sites have indeed risen considerably in the past 10+ years. However, these tender bids have been mainly won by the 2 new entrants. As such if land cost is a key cost component, the operating costs of different oil companies should, in theory, be different. That’s why one would be puzzled as to why there has been a high degree of conformity in the pump prices across different oil companies in Hong Kong…... Transparency is the key Unfortunately, due to the lack of transparency in the current auto-fuel market, the Consumer Council finds it difficult to examine if the level of gross margin is reasonable. In this connection, the Consumer Council urges the Government to increase the transparency of information disclosure, including more frequent release of import price data and price trend analysis, as well as reports on cost structure, so that consumers can better understand and monitor auto-fuel price fluctuations. Smart tips If you want to keep up with the oil (auto-fuel) price anytime and anywhere, you can use the “Oil Price Watch” website and smartphone application developed by the Consumer Council. Simply enter the estimated volume and auto-fuel type, it will help you to find out which oil company would offer better cost-saving and discounts / promotional offers, thus helping consumers in making a smart choice! For more detailed information, please refer to the report “Auto-fuel Price Monitoring Analysis 2020”, https://www.consumer.org.hk/en/advocacy/study-report/autofuel_2020
“Cooling” is the key The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is clearly the most important factor. This measures the appliance's ability to remove heat from the indoor to outdoor. The higher the cooling capacity, the faster the cooling. The Energy Label which people normally refer to when purchasing an air conditioner gives the appliance an efficiency grade. The higher the efficiency, the less energy it will consume and thus more money will be saved. It is worth mentioning that the grading standard under the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (MEELS) for room air conditioners is based on the Cooling Seasonal Performance Factor (CSPF) which calculates the ratio of the total annual amount of heat that the air conditioner can remove from the indoor air to the total annual amount of energy consumed during the same period. The computation also takes into account other environmental factors and the resultant rating/grade can effectively reflect the actual energy efficiency of an air conditioner. Apart from choosing an air conditioner with high energy efficiency, you may also need to pay attention to certain factors or situations (such as high humidity level, large room size, west-facing windows, multiple electric appliances in use, and indoor population size, etc.) which may increase the cooling demand and also your electricity bill. Would lowering of the “Fan Speed” lead to energy savings? We tend to think that we can conserve energy by lowering the fan speed of an air conditioner. But you will be surprised to learn that a low-fan-speed setting is not conducive to the overall cooling function and thus affects the energy efficiency of an air conditioner. In reality more energy is consumed in the cooling process under this setting. Consumers should try to adjust the fan speed of an air conditioner to its highest setting whenever possible in order to enhance its performance and save energy. Let the “Electric Fan” stay on Do you habitually close all the windows and switch off all electric fans before turning on the air conditioner? Well, from now on you can skip the latter. As an electric fan consumes far less energy than an air conditioner, you can actually achieve energy saving by switching on both appliances. This is because with the electric fan’s supplementary effect, you can raise the air conditioner’s set point temperature (and save energy) while still having the sensation of thermal comfort! Beware of the “Noise Level” A quieter air conditioner is always more desirable as it not only provides for a peaceful living environment but is also “soothing” to your wallet! Imagine that you had an air conditioner which kept roaring and disturbing your neighbours nearby…… Given such noise emission is regulated under the Noise Control Ordinance, you may be prosecuted at any time and liable with a fine of up to $10,000. If you want to learn more about how to save energy and money(!) while enjoying the comfort of your air conditioner(s), you may want to refer to the article, “Test conducted on ¾ “Horsepower” Window-Type Air Conditioners: Models Using the Eco-Friendly Refrigerants Outperform!”. CHOICE Magazine, Issue 523 (Chinese version only). In the article, the Consumer Council gives an in-depth analysis on the energy efficiency of the various air conditioners in the market and provides useful tips on energy saving.