Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image


Enforcers pleased with smoke ban compliance

Dan Kadison – SCMP

Most smokers are complying with the final phase of the smoking ban – and a new measure will soon provide a strong deterrent to those considering lighting up in prohibited places, a top law enforcement official says.

On September 1, the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Ordinance will go into effect, giving tobacco control inspectors, police and at least 1,000 government employees the power to issue fixed HK$1,500 tickets to those who puff away in smoke-free spots.

“A fixed-penalty ticket is quite, quite costly… We’re talking HK$1,500. It’s an expensive ticket,” said Chief Inspector Roger L.S. Mui, who has been working with the Tobacco Control Office since December. “People will think before they smoke in a non-smoking area.”

At present, 85 tobacco control inspectors issue summonses to law-breakers in smoke-free venues. Each summons carried a possible penalty of up to HK$5,000, but the actual fine imposed by the courts had averaged “around HK$500 to HK$1,000″, Chief Inspector Mui said.

Under the new ordinance, the summons scheme will be dropped and hundreds of “designated officers” from the departments of food and environmental hygiene, leisure and cultural services, and housing will be empowered to issue fixed-penalty tickets “in public venues under their management”, a Department of Health spokesman said.

Tobacco control inspectors have issued more than 14,000 summonses since January last year, when smoking became illegal in restaurants, workplaces and indoor public areas.

Bars, nightclubs, mahjong parlours, karaokes, massage venues and bathhouses lost their exemptions on July 1 – and, overall, the final phase of the ban was “working well”, Chief Inspector Mui said. People were following the law and venue operators were being “very co-operative”.

Health Department figures show 310 complaints were made about smoking in venues covered by the final phase and 45 summonses were issued by tobacco control investigators up to last Monday.

Chief Inspector Mui said publicity and education about the switch to fixed-penalty tickets, along with the wider net of enforcement, would further deter smokers. In the meantime, he said, ticket issuers had been trained and were ready to enforce the new ordinance. They had received instruction from Tobacco Control Office staff and police, who have been seconded to the office to train inspectors since 2005.

Up to 40 pubs may close, massage and mahjong parlours also suffer

Amy Nip, Austin Chiu and Dan Kadison – SCMP

More than 30 bars are on the verge of closing as a result of the ban on smoking in entertainment venues, according to the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association. Massage and mahjong parlours have also been hit hard, the industry says.

Business at bars and pubs had dropped 20 per cent to 40 per cent since the smoking ban came into force, the association said.

Business at massage parlours had halved, according to associations representing the sector. Most mahjong parlour operators interviewed said their business was down by about a third.

Some 30 or 40 bars, out of a total of 800 in the city, could close in the near future, Hong Kong Bar and Club Association vice-chairman Chin Chun-wing said. Up to 10 bar owners had sold their businesses recently.

While some smokers said they now preferred going to upstairs pubs – some of which are turning a blind eye to the ban – Mr Chin said others had simply stopped going to bars.

Charlie Chair Sai-sui, a 25-year veteran of the industry and operator of the Schooner Pub & Karaoke in Tsim Sha Tsui, said he was making a loss of about HK$30,000 a month in an industry that was experiencing a “bloodbath”.

At Delaney’s Irish pub in Tsim Sha Tsui, general manager Colin Williams said it was too early to judge the smoking ban’s effect, as “July is notoriously bad anyway”. He estimated receipts had dropped 5 per cent because daytime customers were no longer stopping by for a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

Other patrons, however, were now bringing their children to the pub and that was helping offset losses. Also, evening customers, mostly overseas visitors, were “used to these [smoking] bans already”, he said.

Chow Chun-yu, chief executive of the Hong Kong Licensed Massage Association, said customers would rather go to mainland parlours because they could smoke there.

A supervisor at the Tai Sam Yuen mahjong parlour in Sham Shui Po said the smoking ban had been more damaging to the business than the global economic crisis. It had caused business to fall by a fifth and the parlour could close at any time.

And a general manager at mahjong parlour operator KC City said business at her eight parlours was down 40 per cent compared to July last year. Four-fifths of customers were smokers, she said.

But James Middleton, chairman of Hong Kong-based Clear The Air’s anti-tobacco committee, said smoking bans had not hurt the catering industry in other countries.

Overall, till receipts in places that had enforced smoking bans had stayed the same or, in most places, risen by 5 per cent to 12 per cent, he said. Hong Kong had seen “the biggest up” in business, even with a partial ban, of any city, he said.

“Restaurant turnover [in Hong Kong] has increased 29 per cent since before the ban,” Mr Middleton said. “And restaurant turnover here includes bars … of 7,000 licensed premises, [only] 1,000 applied for an exemption [from the smoking ban] and were granted an exemption.”

One reason for the increase was that Hong Kong families were able to bring their young children to the smoke-free establishments, he said.

High-rise pubs a draw for sneaky smokers

Amy Nip, Austin Chiu and Dan Kadison – SCMP

Smoke rises, and these days so do smokers.

As the month-old ban on smoking in all indoor entertainment venues takes hold at street level, smokers are moving to upstairs premises where managers either turn a blind eye or have given up trying to stop their patrons lighting up.

Pub checks by South China Morning Post reporters this week has found few people dare to smoke in bars on the ground floor in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. But upstairs – including one high-rise building in Causeway Bay that has several pubs – it is a different story.

On Wednesday night, a handful of customers were seen smoking as they drank at one of the upper floor pubs where ashtrays were available.

Asked why smoking was allowed, the manager, who identified himself as Jaime, said staff could do little if customers insisted on smoking.

“We tried to advise regular customers not to smoke when the smoking ban came into force. But it was hard for us to keep pestering them … so if they don’t listen to us we give up,” he said, adding that ashtrays were not put out on tables but could be picked up from the bar.

The scene was similar at two other pubs on upper floors of the building.

“It is safe to smoke at upstairs bars, especially those high up in the building,” customer Man Cheung said. “The security guard on the ground usually tips off bar owners when Tobacco Control Officers arrive. Bars on first and second floors may not have enough time to act but those on higher floors are able to ask their customers to stub their cigarettes and take away the ashtrays.”

The ban is being felt elsewhere though, with operators saying more than 30 bars could close soon because of lost business. Massage centres say business has dropped by half and mahjong parlours report a drop of up to 40 per cent.

Tobacco ban spells end for smoky little Turkish cafes

TURKEY, Daren Butler, SCMP

Smokers in Turkey tempted to flout a new ban in cafes, restaurants and bars will be spared execution, as allegedly meted out in 17th-century Istanbul – but their prime minister has likened cigarettes to terrorism.

That’s a measure of how strongly Recep Tayib Erdogan feels about tobacco. Ottomann Sultan Murad IV is said to have roamed the streets ordering the execution of those who defied a smoking ban aimed at curbing coffeehouse sedition.

One of the world’s oldest prohibitions of smoking, Sultan Murad’s failed and, as tobacco’s popularity grew in Turkey, the saying “smoke like a Turk” took root in languages across Europe.

Mr Erdogan is the driving force behind the next phase of a widely popular ban that took effect yesterday. It aims to curb the habit in a country where 22 million people, including about half the adult male population, smoke.

But at a time of economic crisis, the prohibition – adding restaurants, cafes and bars to the places where smoking is not allowed – is viewed by a minority as a potential assault on their culture.

Mr Erdogan, who long since banned smoking in cabinet meetings, also faces opposition from owners of thousands of bars and cafes across the Muslim country, who see the ban as a threat to their business.

Some in the bar industry point out that the smoking ban coincides with the introduction of restrictions on alcohol advertising this month, but experts reject suggestions it is a stalking-horse for tighter controls on the sale of alcohol.

“Let’s keep alcohol and cigarettes separate. They are different things,” law professor Hayrettin Okcesiz of Akdeniz University said. “If there is a ban on alcohol, everyone should have the right to protest, but we shouldn’t see this is as step towards an alcohol ban.”

Among opponents are those who work in nargile, or water-pipe cafes, an ancient tradition that has enjoyed a revival in the past decade among locals and tourists. “This is the Ottoman culture that comes from our ancestors,” said cafe owner Ali Yogurtcu, 54. “We will protest if they try to ban this, but I don’t think they will try to destroy it.”

A meagre fine under Turkey’s ban – 69 lira (HK$350) against a ceiling of €500 (HK$5,475) in neighbouring Greece – masks fierce determination on the part of Mr Erdogan. His personal dislike of the habit may give the ban the momentum it needs to succeed in the world’s seventh-biggest cigarette market.

When the anti-smoking campaign was launched in 2007, he famously declared the struggle against cigarette use to be “as important as the struggle against terrorism”, words that resonate strongly in a country that has witnessed a bloody 25-year Kurdish guerilla insurgency.

In Turkey, 100,000 people are estimated by the Health Ministry to die annually from smoking-related illnesses – about 0.45 per cent of smokers. Globally, about 5.4 million die annually of smoking-related illnesses.

Surveys indicate about 90 per cent popular support for the smoking ban, which started last year in workplaces and shopping centres. The authorities say that has already lowered cigarette consumption slightly.

Support has been helped by a growing interest in healthy lifestyles as people enjoy greater prosperity (SEHK: 0803, announcements, news) and expect better standards of living. But there have been problems.

A group of convicts rioted at a prison in the southeastern province of Siirt, climbing on to the roof, lighting fires and throwing stones to protest at the ban on smoking in jail.

Smoking has also continued in some cafes in shopping centres, where retailers have complained about its impact on trade as the economy slumped nearly 14 per cent in the first quarter of the year.

These fuel doubts about whether the ban will be implemented in the thousands of smoky, male-dominated tea houses in towns and villages across Turkey where many men spend much of their free time, gossiping or playing backgammon.

Tea-house owners say more than 80 per cent of their patrons smoke.

Others say Mr Erdogan’s anti-smoking fervour reflects efforts to change society in a country where his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) is accused by secularists of promoting a more conservative vision since it came to power in 2002.

“I think we have been heading towards a camouflaged alcohol ban,” said Tahir Berrakkarasu, who heads the Beyder association that represents cafes, bars and restaurants in Istanbul’s bustling Beyoglu district.

“Why is this happening? It means that alcohol isn’t wanted in this country,” he said, referring to what he says is a six-year government campaign targeting bars with a stream of taxes and bureaucratic obstacles.

The advertising restrictions on alcohol that take effect this month ban linking alcohol to food and cultural values: drink producers say they will severely curb their marketing ability.

Even though the authorities say implementing the smoking ban will be a challenge, they point out that Turks are receptive to change, citing the success of a 13-year-old ban on smoking in buses and the country’s adoption of the Latin alphabet in place of Ottoman Turkish script in 1928.

“We can see that the people who live in this land can adapt very quickly to change,” said Ubeyd Korbey, who chairs an anti-smoking association and played a role in drafting the ban. “And we now have a very decisive prime minister.”