Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image


Health Bureau calls for support as ‘smoking law’ comes into force

Download (PDF, 382KB)

Macau tobacco law must pass by Aug 2017: health boss

Lei Chin Ion, the director of Macau’s Health Bureau, said on Wednesday his department wants to see the government’s draft of the revised tobacco control bill complete all necessary scrutiny and approval prior to the city’s current legislative term ending in August 2017. If the deadline is missed, the current proposed legislation would fall and the process – which began in July 2015 – would have to start afresh.

Mr Lei added that his department had yet to decide if it supported the idea of allowing the continuation of smoking lounges on the main floors of the city’s casinos. The draft bill originally submitted had envisaged a total ban on all smoking inside the city’s casinos. Investment analysts have noted that casino markets that entirely ban in-casino smoking usually experience a fall in casino gross gaming revenue (GGR), as players are forced to exit the casino in order to indulge their habit.

But a working committee of the city’s Legislative Assembly tasked with scrutinising the bill had in May suggested that with use of the right technical know-how and other safeguards for the health of non-smokers, the retention of smoking lounges might be feasible. Macau has already been buffeted by two years of sustained declines in casino GGR that investment analysts have associated with China’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. Only in the past three months have there been signs that the market’s casino GGR might be stabilising, a number of senior industry executives have said.

“We are still collecting opinions regarding whether to have smoking lounges inside casinos, and are now studying this subject,” the Health Bureau’s Mr Lei told reporters on Wednesday following a closed-doors meeting of the working committee. Mr Lei doesn’t sit on the body, but as head of the Health Bureau had been invited by lawmakers to attend that day’s committee session.

Bill deadline

“What we strive to do is to see this bill approved before the current legislative term ends [in August] in 2017,” Mr Lei added.

The Health Bureau director declined to comment on the likely date the provisions of the bill would come into force, assuming it is passed before August next year. Aside from the contested issue of casino smoking lounges, the measure proposes more restrictive terms for sales of tobacco products and a ban in Macau on the sale of electronic cigarettes.

Prior to the two-month summer recess of the Legislative Assembly – a break that ended on October 15 – a majority of the relevant working committee had shown support for the retention of smoking lounges on casino main floors, the committee’s president Chan Chak Mo told reporters on May 26.

The working committee’s support for smoking lounges is on condition that second-hand smoke can be kept away from casino staff, and from guests that don’t smoke, Mr Chan said at the time.

Smoking on casino main floors in Macau is currently only allowed in airport-style enclosed smoking lounges that do not contain any gaming tables or slot machines. Casino operators have been required to get approval for such facilities. Having a cigarette while gambling is at present still allowed in Macau casino VIP rooms.

Speaking to reporters after meeting the government on Wednesday, committee president Mr Chan noted that the majority of his working committee had not changed its stance regarding the retention of smoking lounges inside casinos. He further noted that his committee is to discuss the subject with government officials in the next meeting. That meeting is yet to be scheduled.

“There is a deadline to it [the government’s study of the retention of smoking lounges],” Mr Chan noted on Wednesday.

“Because this year is the final year of our legislative term [the fifth term of the Legislative Assembly], this means if this bill cannot be approved before August 15, 2017, it will have to be scrapped,” the legislator stated.

Total 73 Macau smoking lounges await approval: govt

Applications for a total of 73 smoking lounges across Macau’s casino market were pending government approval as of early July this year, said Health Bureau director Lei Chin Ion in a written reply to a question from Macau legislator Ella Lei Cheng I.

The official statement, publicised on Wednesday, did not specify which casinos had applied for the smoking lounges. It did state that a total of 86 smoking lounges were designated as government-approved facilities in the city’s casino market as of early July, but didn’t list where they were. Of that number, 83 were located on main or ‘mass’ gaming floors; while the remaining three smoking lounges were situated in “areas restricted to certain gamblers”.

In October 2014 the Macau government banned smoking on casino mass floors. An exception was made for tobacco use in enclosed smoking lounges – facilities without gaming – located on some casino mass-market floors in the city. Having a cigarette while gambling is at present still allowed in VIP rooms.

The main floor ban had brought an “apparent improvement” in the air quality inside casinos, Mr Lei remarked in his answer to Ms Lei, a legislator affiliated to an influential local labour grouping called the Macau Federation of Trade Unions. Some local casino workers have complained that smoking lounges do not sufficiently protect them from secondhand smoke.

As of the first half of this year, a total of 277 people have been fined for smoking in unauthorised areas inside the city’s casinos, Mr Lei stated. His department has also received 561 complaints in the period regarding alleged smoking rules violation inside casinos, of which 90 percent of the cases were transferred to the city’s casino regulator Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau for further follow up.

The government is now pushing for a full smoking ban inside casinos as part of a scheduled revision of the city’s tobacco control law. But the majority on the Macau Legislative Assembly working committee asked to scrutinise the revised tobacco control bill currently supports the retention of smoking lounges on casinos. The working committee is currently on its summer break: it will only continue reviewing the bill after October 15 at the earliest, once the Legislative Assembly’s two-month recess ends.

A number of investment analysts have said that were smoking to be banned outright from the city’s casinos, it could have a negative affect on gaming revenue generated from smokers; as they would spend less time at a gaming table or a gaming machine if required to step outside to pursue their tobacco habit.

Macau legislators resume tobacco bill scrutiny in Oct

Scrutiny of Macau’s revised tobacco control bill will only start again after October 15 at the earliest. The territory’s Legislative Assembly working committee tasked with the job is still awaiting the government’s feedback regarding some comments the committee has made on the content of the bill.

So said legislator and businessman Chan Chak Mo – the head of the relevant working committee – in comments to GGRAsia.

“The government is yet to give us a feedback regarding the content of the bill – namely whether it accepts our opinions on the bill,” Mr Chan told us. “It is only when we have the government’s response, that we’ll be able to resume discussion.”

Mr Chan added that his committee is currently occupied with other bills and will be up to August 15; at which time the assembly starts a two-month summer recess.

A majority on the relevant working committee supported the retention of smoking lounges on casino main floors, Mr Chan had said in comments to the media following a closed-door committee discussion on May 26. The working committee’s tentative support for smoking lounges is on condition that second-hand smoke can be kept away from casino staff and from guests that don’t smoke, Mr Chan said at the time.

“Regarding tobacco control in casinos, that is what our committee has suggested to the government,” Mr Chan told GGRAsia in his latest comments. He added: “But we don’t oppose the [government] suggestion of banning tobacco sales inside casinos.”

“After the government tells us what their opinions are on the bill, I don’t think it will take long for the assembly to process the bill,” the legislator added. “In terms of technicality, the bill is not hard to handle – it’s more the political will from the government that weighs on the progress of the legal revisions,” explained Mr Chan.

The government has proposed a total ban on smoking in the city’s casinos. A number of investment analysts have said that could depress revenue for the already beleaguered industry, which in July had recorded its 26th consecutive month of year-on-year decline in casino gross gaming revenue.

Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam Chon Weng, told media on June 26 that the government was still open to suggestions from legislators regarding the revisions to the tobacco control bill.

“The [smoking control] bill would definitely not be dropped. Because the bill has already been approved through first reading by the Legislative Assembly,” said Mr Tam at the time.

“It’s only that now the [working] committee has raised some suggestions regarding the bill, which we’re open to discuss them. And we’ll have to see if their suggestions are appropriate,” the secretary said.

Tobacco products entering Macau decrease 82 percent

From January to May this year, 3.48 million packs of cigarettes have entered Macau, an 82 percent decrease compared to the same period last year, when the number was around 19 million packs, according to a report by Jornal Va Kio.

Cheong Iok Ieng, Chief of the Office of the Secretary for Security, pointed out that the significant decrease occurred after the Macau government raised cigarette taxes last July. Cheong claims that raising taxes is an effective measure to control tobacco consumption.

Between July 14 last year and June 20 of 2016, the Macao Customs Service inspected a total of 1,690 cases related to tobacco products, seizing 1.68 million cigarettes, 392 cigars, and 10.82 kilograms of tobacco.

Last year, the MSAR raised the tax per cigarette from MOP0.5 to MOP1.5. Additionally, each kilogram of tobacco carried MOP600 in taxes, while each kilogram of cigars brought MOP4,326 in taxes. The price adjustment means that 70 percent of the value paid for cigarettes is a tax. Another implemented change concerns individuals who are allowed to bring only 19 cigarettes into Macau per day (a decrease from 100 cigarettes). Instead of 19 cigarettes, individuals may bring in only one cigar, or other tobacco products weighing at most 25 grams.

During the first three days after the law amendment came into effect last year, customs apprehended 3,500 cigarettes per day at the border gate, mainly from mainland tourists.

Cheong revealed that Macau Customs Service required Gongbei customs to broadcast related information about Macau’s tobacco control regulations on the mainland side.

She further informed that the customs officers increased inspections of tourists and vehicles at several border gates in order to combat tobacco smuggling.

In 2012, the local government approved a restriction that meant only 100 cigarettes would be allowed to be brought to the city, half the number allowed before the change.

Tobacco sellers decry more curbs on their business

Macau’s sellers of cigarettes and cigars have expressed their opposition to a bill that would ban shops from displaying tobacco products or from offering facilities where prospective buyers can try tobacco products.

“Cigars and other tobacco products should to be displayed and presented to customers,” Pacific Cigar Co Ltd regional director Kenith Wong told reporters after he and other representatives of the tobacco trade attended a meeting of the Legislative Assembly standing committee that is considering the bill.

“The tasting room, as we call it, is a facility that is very important in the sales process,” Mr Wong said.

Report | ‘One in three cigarettes illegal’ findings questioned by experts

A report published last month, which found that one in three cigarettes in Macau SAR are illegal, has continued to come under scrutiny after experts and regional organizations questioned its creditability.

The report, entitled “Asia-16: Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2014”, was jointly commissioned by the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) and Oxford Economics (OE), and found that around 34.5 percent of all cigarettes consumed within Macau were illegal.

Last month, the Times reported on a press conference held by OE in Macau, outlining the main findings of the report. Since then, we have been alerted to recent critiques of versions of the reports from 2012 and 2013, including one which was published by Professor Hana Ross on May 20, 2015 titled “A Critique of the ITIC/OE Asia-14 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2013”.

According to Ross, who is the Principal Research Officer of Economics of Cape Town’s University Tobacco Control Project, the 2012 and 2013 reports both fail to provide scientifically sound and unbiased information to policy-makers. She contends, “The figures and statistics [that they report] are the product of either incorrect or unverified/unverifiable estimation methods applied to often questionable data from multiple sources that do not blend.”

She added that “the results are not comparable across countries and are inconsistent with results of other studies.”

In her critique, Ross explains that the problems associated with the “Asia-16” report fall into four general categories: scientific method and data-gathering issues; a lack of detail allowing others to replicate the survey; the selective presentation of results; and what Ross terms “plain mistakes and errors.”

The main argument for tackling the illegal trafficking of cigarettes, according to the “Asia-16” report, is to prevent national governments from losing out on missed tax revenues. Some however, believe that the results may have been influenced by the interests of large tobacco organizations.

Oxford Economics was forthcoming at the time of the press conference in revealing that supporting data had been provided by both Nielson and the tobacco firm, Philip Morris International (PM). Indeed, the disclaimer at the beginning of the report reads that OE and ITIC “prepared the Report in accordance with specific terms of reference between Philip Morris International Management” and that “financial support was provided by PM.”

In the 2013 edition, the disclaimer read, “should any party choose to rely on the report, they do so at their own risk. ITIC and OE will not accept any responsibility or liability for the report.” Ross highlighted this in her criticism and reiterated that she “would caution any stakeholders against relying on this report when assessing the trade in illicit cigarettes in their country or in the region.” This may be considered one of the reasons why this part of the disclaimer was not included into the 2014 edition, “Asia-16”.

An additional critique, also authored by Ross, was published last month. It is a review of another report from ITIC, entitled “ASEAN Excise Tax Reform: A Resource Manual”. The October critique was commissioned by The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), which according to their own descriptions, “supports ASEAN member states in developing and implementing effective, evidence-based tobacco control policies in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

Skeptics point out that the ITIC report “focuses only on tobacco taxation” whilst failing to mention the overall implications of tobacco products for public health or the overall economy. “Governments should be wary of the recommendations in this manual,” wrote Ross.

A media and communications representative from SEATCA told the Times: “We have not seen the Asia-16 report [2014 edition], however we have seen earlier editions and have commissioned a critique of Asia-14.”

When asked about the role of tobacco firm financing, the representative answered: “If Asia-16 is anything like those [previous] reports, we would not be surprised if it was funded by tobacco money.”

The report was based on a survey of 1000 packs allegedly discarded in Macau. Survey organizers collected the discarded packages and determined the origins of the cigarettes. According to Adrian Cooper, CEO of Oxford Economics, this is the most accurate method of ascertaining the proportion of illicit cigarettes in a given area as “people are not always forthcoming or honest” when they are asked about the origins of their cigarettes.

The main conclusions from the survey were that countries which impose higher taxes on cigarette sales and which are located within close proximity to cheaper locations “tend to see a higher rate of illicit consumption.” The results of the study pertaining to Macau look at data exclusively from 2014, and so did not reflect the recent regulations introduced in 2015, including a new tax hike and a reduced personal duty-free allowance.

Health Bureau defends proposed ban on e-cigarette sales

The local health authority said it did not agree with a survey suggesting that smokers would like to be able to choose to switch to less harmful alternatives to traditional tobacco products such as e-cigarettes

The city’s Health Bureau has defended its proposed ban on local sales of electronic cigarettes as part of the amendment of the tobacco control regime, saying that it does not agree with a survey suggesting that most smokers want to be able to choose to switch to ‘less harmful’ alternatives such as e-cigarettes.

In a statement released on Thursday night, the Bureau stated that e-cigarettes are not less harmful than traditional cigarettes, and that e-cigarettes should not be considered as an alternative to conventional tobacco products.

“To ensure public health, the MSAR Government has clearly suggested regulating e-cigarettes as a tobacco product as written in the delivered bill on the amendment of the tobacco control regime, and this has already gone through the first reading in the Legislative Assembly,” the Bureau stated.

The bill, which is now being reviewed by the second permanent committee of the Assembly, suggests a blanket ban on e-cigarette sales. The same bill also proposed a universal smoking ban in the city’s casinos.

The Health Bureau’s statement followed the Thursday briefing of two Hong Kong-based consumer advocacy groups calling for the government and legislature to give an opportunity to adults to choose e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking.

The two groups are Fact Asia and Asian Vape Association, and the former’s supporters include Axiom Select, the Tobacco Vapour Electronic Cigarette Association, and Philip Morris International.

In the briefing, Fact Asia has presented a survey conducted by Ipsos of 404 local adult smokers in late August to mid-September, in which 54 per cent agreed that e-cigarettes represent a positive alternative to smoking. Some 55 per cent of respondents agreed that the government should not prevent or delay legalising less harmful products.

The Health Bureau said they disagreed with the conclusion of the survey.

Citing a World Health Organisation (WHO) report of 2014 on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), the Bureau stressed the possible health risks to ENDS users and non-users and that the efficacy of e-cigarettes helping smokers to quit smoking has not been systemically evaluated. Electronic cigarettes are the most common prototype of ENDS.

The WHO report, which recommends strict regulation of e-cigarettes and bans sales to minors, noted that the aerosol to ENDS users usually contains some carcinogenic compounds and other toxicants.

‘The fact that ENDS exhaled aerosol contains on average lower levels of toxicants than the emissions from combusted tobacco does not mean that these levels are acceptable to involuntarily exposed bystanders,’ the WHO report reads. ‘In fact, exhaled aerosol is likely to increase above background levels the risk of disease to bystanders, especially in the case of some ENDS that produce toxicant levels in the range of that produced by some cigarettes.’

Banning the trade

In Macau’s neighbouring city Hong Kong, the health authority is considering a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes despite a recent British Study suggesting their vapours are around 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco. Currently, e-cigarettes can be sold legally in Hong Kong, and they are regulated as pharmaceutical products by the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance.

The study, conducted by Public Health England, concluded that most of the chemicals causing smoking-related diseases were absent in e-cigarettes. The study also suggests e-cigarettes should be promoted as a means to help smokers quit.

Macau’s legislature will soon be considering whether it goes along with the government’s proposed ban on e-cigarette sales, as legislator Chan Chak Mo noted last week that he was still hopeful the bill could be approved before the legislative year ends in August, 2016.

“We recommend that the Legislative Assembly take note of regulations that have been introduced in other countries, and look at the body of evidence. They should introduce evidence-based regulation of e-cigarettes in Hong Kong instead of banning them without any in-depth understanding of the reasons why harm-reduction experts are calling for their legalisation,” co-founder of Heneage Mitchell commented in a note to the survey.