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November 24th, 2008:

Smoking Rooms Being Considered

Dan Kadison – Nov 24, 2008 – SCMP

With the second phase of a smoking ban coming into effect next summer, government-commissioned consultants are studying the feasibility of having smoking rooms in Hong Kong – and they have even built an experimental enclosure for testing.

“When the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2006 was passed, the administration undertook to commission consultants with relevant expertise to study the technical feasibility of a smoking room,” a spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said.

The study started last August, and experts were trying to determine whether a smoking room could provide “effective separation” and protect the health of non-smokers, the spokesman said.

As of now, “the administration has not reached any conclusions regarding smoking rooms, neither on its feasibility nor applicability”, the spokesman said.

Findings of the feasibility study are expected to be announced during the first quarter of next year.

The smoking room being considered is different from another opposed proposal, one where people could stay, smoke and enjoy themselves in a partitioned, ventilated area.

James Middleton, chairman of the anti-tobacco committee of Clear The Air, a Hong Kong environmental group, called the new smoking room study “a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“It’s already been proven that it doesn’t work – that in any contiguous area, where the smoking room, with an opening door, is connected to a non-smoking area, the smoke will go through. Every time the door opens, smoke will pass to the other area. There are worldwide expert studies on it.”

Legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, a proponent of smoking rooms, said he had spoken to Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok about them.

The secretary for health was “still studying it”, Mr Cheung said. “He’s built a smoking room and is looking at the feasibility of it.”

Under the next phase of the smoking ban, people will no longer be able to smoke in places once given a grace period, such as bars, nightclubs, and mahjong parlours. The first stage of the ban began last January.

Delay In Smoke Ban?

Delay in smoke ban would help us beat crisis, bars say

Dan Kadison – Nov 24, 2008 – SCMP

Bar owners say a delay in the next phase of a smoking ban would help business as they struggle to cope with the economic downturn, which they expect to start to bite early next year.

Smoking has been banned in most indoor places since last year. Bars and nightclubs, exempted from the ban, are expected to fall in line by July 1 next year.

But Chris Lenz, founder of Igor’s Group, a chain of restaurants and bars including The Cavern and Stormy Weather, is hoping the ban will come into effect a year later.

“It’s better for our business,” he said. “The fiscal crisis isn’t helping things. Certainly, next year is going to be a challenge, there’s no question about it. Anything that can be thrown into the pot that can help would be appreciated.”

Bar owners said sales could start decreasing by January.

“Half-a-dozen to a dozen regulars of mine have lost their jobs in the past two or weeks. They’re not going to be partying next year,” said a Wan Chai bar owner who asked to remain anonymous.

Agreeing something needs to be done, legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan sees an alternative to the ban – smoking rooms. “I think some bars might not even last until next year,” he said, adding that those that ride out the downturn will have to deal with the ban, and that could “wipe them out”.

“If the government doesn’t want to see a lot of closures in bars, entertainment [venues], massage parlours, mahjong parlours…and nightclubs, it should think about allowing smoking rooms,” he said.

Mr Cheung, chairman of the Hong Kong Catering Industry Association, believed last year’s smoking ban was implemented too quickly, but he had no plan to call for the law’s suspension.

“I’m going to see what’s happening with the smoking room,” he said. “I feel strongly that if there was a smoking room, it would be OK.”

Meanwhile, PolyU Technology and Consultancy has found in a survey that 41 per cent of restaurants and businesses suffered a drop in sales in the first half of last year, compared with the same period in 2006.

The three-part, 18-month study was commissioned by the Catering Industry Association.

Local environmental group Clear the Air last week called on PolyU Technology to issue another report using government data that shows restaurant receipts had mostly risen in the quarters before, during and after the ban.

For instance, receipts increased 11.6 per cent in the second quarter of last year, compared with the same period in 2006, according to data from the Census and Statistics Department.

“The usual tactic of the tobacco industry is to spread doom and gloom,” James Middleton, of Clear the Air, said.

“These figures [from the government] prove conclusively that the anti-smoking legislation in restaurants, which have been proven to work elsewhere in the world, in many countries, also work in Hong Kong,” he said.

Responding to the call by Clear the Air, Mr Cheung said: “I don’t want to be here arguing about what is right and what is wrong. Clearly, everybody by now knows that 2007 was a very good year – with or without the smoking ban. The question you need to ask [is] if we did not have a smoking ban … could [it] even be better?”

Crisis No Reason To Delay Smoking Ban

Nov 24, 2008 – Leader

Bars were against the smoking ban when times were good. Unsurprisingly, now that the city is facing a steep economic downturn, they are calling for an extension of their smoking-ban exemption, which will end in the summer. For them, there is never a good time to impose the ban because they are simply against it. They have been given more than two years to prepare for the ban; they have no more excuses not to abide by it when their exemption expires. The authorities should not listen to them this time. Our city deserves a universal ban on smoking in public areas.

Bar operators may appear to have a good argument in these troubled times; it may even sound persuasive to some officials. It is, rightly, the government’s stance to help small and medium-sized businesses wherever possible in this economic climate. The bars are right in saying that many will face tough economic times; some will go under. It is not clear, though, that allowing bars to extend their exemption will help them maintain or improve business. Many restaurateurs were in the same position as bar owners are now when the ban was imposed. Many initially complained about a drop in business from smoking customers. However, they soon saw business return to normal as their establishments attracted non-smoking customers who had previously avoided them. Since there are far more non-smokers than smokers in Hong Kong, bars will attract new patrons even as they lose some old ones.

And there are public health concerns. Doctors now believe there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Authoritative studies, conducted locally and overseas, have shown sharp drops in heart attacks in places where a smoking ban has been imposed. By now, everyone knows the high costs of treating chronic diseases associated with long-term smoking.

Endangering lives for the sake of business is not a sound argument, especially when the business value of allowing customers to smoke is questionable. The city’s smoking ban has undoubtedly saved many lives. But it has only achieved a partial victory in public health because of the exemption. It is time to complete the ban.