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July 3rd, 2008:

Legco Passes Bill Setting Smoking Fine At HK$1,500

Loretta Fong – Updated on Jul 03, 2008 – SCMP

A bill to impose a fixed-penalty fine on people caught illegally lighting up under the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance was passed by the Legislative Council yesterday.

Smokers caught in no-smoking areas will be given a fixed fine of HK$1,500, to be settled within 21 days. If the offenders fail to settle the fine in time, they will receive a letter requiring payment within another 10 days. But if they still fail to do so, a court order will be issued.

The bill also gave officers of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Housing Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department the power to issue the tickets to complement the efforts of the Tobacco Control Office. Three thousand officers from the three departments will join 85 tobacco control officers in enforcing the law.

Under the smoking ban, which came into force in January last year, offenders are summonsed to court, where they can be fined up to HK$5,000, but are usually fined about HK$700.

Tobacco Control Office inspectors are empowered only to collect evidence on offences and to issue summonses, but are not empowered to make arrests. Under the new legislation officers will have the power to issue fixed-penalty tickets.

Democratic legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo was disappointed that his proposed amendment allowing offenders to spend the fine on a quitting course was rejected.

The proposed amendment was dismissed by Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai on Monday. She ruled that it was irrelevant to the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Bill.

Li Kwok-ying, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said Mr Cheng’s proposal would complicate matters.

He added the government should provide more training to officers to help them enforce the system.

Some officers were worried the workload might be too high and also that they might have difficulties when dealing with offenders.

The chairman of the Council on Smoking and Health, Homer Tso Wei-kwok, believed the fixed-penalty system would help reduce time in court and probably be a deterrent.

The government is considering offering Tobacco Control Office officers civil service contracts to ease manpower concerns. It also plans to strengthen the anti-smoking drive by utilising NGOs.

Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said a date for the legislation to be introduced had not been set.

Fixed Fine For Smoking Violators

Bonnie Chen – HK Standard – Thursday, July 03, 2008

Smokers who light up in non-smoking areas will face a fixed penalty of HK$1,500, according to a bill passed in the Legislative Council yesterday.

But Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said there is no timetable to enforce the fixed penalty as publicity remains to be done and the Health Department needs 10 months to set up an information system.

“The HK$1,500 fixed penalty can cut out a lot of court procedures,” Chow said.

Currently, violators face a maximum fine of HK$5,000. But the highest penalty meted out so far is only HK$1,500 and the lowest HK$50.

In addition to the Office of Tobacco Control, Chow said police and officers of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and Housing Department will be authorized to hand out the tickets.

Violators have to pay the fine within 21 days.

The Office of Tobacco Control currently has 80 inspectors and will hire more. To retain staff, Chow added its inspectors will be given status as permanent government staff.

“We will eventually have over 3,000 law enforcement officers altogether,” Chow said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo cited a survey the party did last month which showed 80 percent of 700 respondents agreed to allow those caught to choose between paying the fine and using the money to pay for treatment to quit smoking.

Cheng was disappointed when Legco president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai rejected discussion on his suggestion as it was outside the scope of the bill.

Lawmaker Li Kwok-ying of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said Cheng’s suggestion will make the law enforcement procedures more complicated.

Li added it will also lead to more conflicts between the officer and violators.

From the start of the year to last month, the Office of Tobacco Control gave away 9,851 tickets.