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May 19th, 2009:

Tobacco Staff Quitting Posts

Celine Sun, SCMP – May 19, 2009

Plagued by a high resignation rate among tobacco control inspectors, the government is considering bringing them into the civil service as a way of retaining them.

Nearly a quarter of the inspectors hired by the Tobacco Control Office quit their jobs in 2007-08, compared to 16 per cent the previous year.

Most quit to take new jobs, the government said in a document submitted to the Legislative Council for discussion.

The office employs 124 people, including 85 tobacco control inspectors who are authorised to initiate prosecution for such offences as smoking and the displaying or publishing of tobacco advertisements in areas where smoking is banned.

Legislators called last year for more inspectors to be employed and police to be more actively involved in smoking enforcement after several assaults on inspectors and people who complained about smoking.

But the government said later it had no plans to hire more inspectors, even though their workload will increase when the ban on smoking in public venues is fully enforced in July.

In the document, the government said it was studying the possibility of “absorbing tobacco control inspector positions into existing civil service grades as far as practicable”.

It is also considering creating a new civil service grade especially for the inspectors if no appropriate grade can be found in the system.

The subcommittee of the Legislative Council on the fixed penalty system for smoking offences will today discuss implementation of the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Bill, which is due to come into effect in the first half of this year. Under the bill, anyone who smokes in a no-smoking area or on public transport is liable to a fixed penalty of HK$1,500.

As well as tobacco control inspectors and police, the ordinance empowers officers of the leisure and cultural services, housing, and food and environmental hygiene departments to issue fixed penalty notices.

Under such arrangements, about 900 hygiene staff – including health inspectors, hawker control officers, and market assistants in public markets and hawker bazaars – will be entitled to issue fixed penalty notices.

Meanwhile, 2,000 housing officers, managers and assistant managers of the Housing Department and about 2,000 leisure officers will be authorised to enforce the smoking ban.

The Tobacco Control Office has started organised training for the officers involved.