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May 12th, 2009:

Attempt to Delay Smoking Ban Fails – Legco President Rules Out Lawmaker’s Bill

Ng Kang-chung, SCMP – May 12, 2009

A last-ditch attempt by a legislator to delay by two years the imposition of a smoking ban in nightclubs, bars and mahjong schools has been defeated.

Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing ruled that the attempt breached a ban on lawmakers introducing bills related to “government policy”.

League of Social Democrats lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip, who initiated the move, criticised Mr Tsang’s ruling as making a mockery of the legislature’s power but said he was not too surprised by the result, given the non-democratic political system.

Mr Chan’s bill sought to defer the implementation date of the smoking ban in venues like bars, clubs and mahjong schools by two years to July 1, 2011.

He said the deferment would help tide those establishments over the current economic downturn.

In his ruling, Mr Tsang said: “The amendments to be effected by Mr Chan’s bill would defer the implementation of the smoking ban … by a period of two years. As such, Mr Chan’s bill clearly impacts upon government policy and the effect cannot be said to be negligible or minimal.”

Accordingly, he ruled that Mr Chan’s bill might not be introduced without the written consent of the chief executive.

Mr Chan said yesterday he did not intend to pursue the matter further.

“If the government is so eager to protect people’s health, why does it not ban wine as well?” he asked.

He also said Mr Tsang’s ruling had deprived the Legislative Council of a chance to review a bill it endorsed three years ago.

The amended ordinance extends no-smoking areas to indoor areas of all restaurants, workplaces and some public outdoor places. Some premises, like bars, nightclubs, mahjong schools and massage parlours, were allowed to delay the changes until July 1 this year.

“The economic situation now is totally different from that three years ago,” Mr Chan said. “What legislators thought was suitable then might not be timely now.”

Lillian Chan Yun-lin, convenor of the Entertainment Business Rights Concern Group, expressed “extreme disappointment” with Mr Tsang’s ruling and accused it of “effectively killing their business”.

“The smoking ban will drive away more of our smoker customers. We are not against anti-smoking [initiatives], but just want more time,” said Ms Chan, whose group is a coalition of entertainment premises.

“If the government wants people to quit smoking, it should enhance education and not do so at the expense of our business.”