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October 15th, 2008:

A Restaurant By Any Other Name

SCMP – Public Eye

Have our courts gone crazy? First we have a judge who ruled in favour of dogs that drive you mad with their non-stop yelping and now we have another who says a restaurant is not really a restaurant if it sells a lot of booze. Huh?

By that same logic, a bar is probably not a bar if it doesn’t sell enough booze. Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes’ ruling involves three establishments that claimed they made more money from alcohol than food and so should be exempt from the smoking ban that applies to restaurants.

It is true that our smoking ban law contains a really stupid loophole that lets establishments off the hook until the end of next June if they’re genuine bars. The loophole was included, at the insistence of the once arrogant but now humbled Liberal Party for big business, which got thrashed in last month’s elections. Big business would rather sell cigarettes and keep the cash register ringing at bars than stop people from getting cancer. But all that aside, shouldn’t judges uphold the spirit of the smoking ban law rather than the right of establishments to exploit the loophole?

This is how one of the three establishments involved describes itself on its website: “The Bull & Bear has full catering facilities and serves full meals throughout the day such as bangers and mash, fish and chips and steak and ale pie catering to breakfast, lunch and dinner patrons.” That’s not a restaurant? For goodness sake.

Many of these “bars” operate a scam – full-blown restaurants during lunch that morph into bars in the evening. It’s easy to expand on the scam – reasonably-priced set lunches but costlier evening drinks. This makes the alcohol revenue higher which then qualifies them for the smoking ban loophole. It’s a nice little number, even Public Eye has to admit.

Implement Full Smoking Ban

SCMP – Updated on Oct 15, 2008

Imperfect laws always end up causing havoc (“Bars win in smoking-ban case”, October 9).

Instead of a simple smoking ban, as successfully implemented in restaurants in 2007, some Legco members pushed for extensions and exemptions in the indoor areas of bars open to those aged 18 and above, mahjong parlours and clubs, commercial bathhouses, massage establishments and nightclubs.

This was further complicated by clauses as to whether food was served and in what amount. There has been considerable confusion and challenges to this law, never mind workers continuing all the time to be exposed to second hand smoke. The health lobby always supported a complete ban to establish a level playing field, to aid implementation and to protect workers’ health.

One hundred and sixty countries have now ratified a WHO treaty that states: “Parties recognise that scientific evidence has unequivocally established that exposure to tobacco smoke causes death, disease and disability.”

Why did Legco not follow this mandate?

Virtually every study done on the introduction of complete smoke-free areas in restaurants and bars shows that such bans are good for the health and the wealth of establishments.

Legco should bring forward the date of a ban in the premises given exemptions and immediately make them smoke-free.

Dr Judith Mackay, director, Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control