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November 29th, 2008:

Should The Ban On Smoking In Bars Be Delayed?

Nov 29 2008 – SCMP

Bars and pubs represent one of Hong Kong’s major entertainment industries, creating numerous job opportunities and making a significant contribution to local economic viability.

However, the Hong Kong government has shown a disregard for the industry’s welfare. Indeed, it has often implemented policies that create difficulties for the industry and threaten the survival of some establishments.

Looking ahead to next year, the industry expects to suffer as a result of the economic downturn.

In fact, in the past few months, we have seen a reduction in profits. Completely banning smoking in bars next year will be an additional blow for such businesses and lead to more unemployment.

By implementing a blanket smoking ban the government would be neglecting the diversity of the bar culture in the city.

Many bars are upstairs in commercial buildings. A total smoking ban will put them at a disadvantage, so in terms of competition, there will no longer be a level playing field. Also, given the insufficient manpower in the Tobacco Control Office, I do not think enforcement of the ban will be effective.

It is clear that extending the smoking ban to bars will disrupt the operation of businesses and exacerbate the problems connected with outdoor smoking.

As a bar owner and chairman of an industry association, I strongly urge the government to review the necessity of banning smoking in bars. I urge officials to consider alternative smoking arrangements for adult-only entertainment venues. The administration should delay the ban to help the industry get through this difficult economic period.

It should also consider practical long-term solutions, for example, allowing people to light up in ventilated smoking rooms set up in bars.

This policy has been adopted in many places, including Singapore, Taiwan, France, Germany and Italy.

Alternatively, the government can allow smoking after a certain time of the day, for example, Taiwan allows smoking in adult-only venues after 9pm.

Jeffrey Tam Chun-kit, chairman of Hong Kong Bars and Karaoke Rights Advocacy