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Struggling venues may turn a blind eye to smoking ban

Danny Mok and Dan Kadison – SCMP

Come Wednesday, smoking will be banned in all indoor areas at workplaces and in public spaces – and bars, nightclubs, clubs, saunas, massage parlours and mahjong parlours will no longer be exempt.

Many such venues are ready to comply, but several establishments could be a bit hazy when it comes to the spirit of the law, the Sunday Morning Post has learned.

Several venue owners and members of an association said they feared business would plummet as a result of the ban, and they would take a fairly lenient enforcement stance.

Chin Chun-wing, vice-chairman of the Bar and Club Association, a group which represents about 200 bars in the city, said he believed members would lose 50 per cent of their business as a result of the ban, the financial downturn and swine flu.

“We have to remove ashtrays, but honestly, if we find customers smoking, we can’t do much as business has already been very bad. We can’t stop them smoking and drive them out of there. We won’t do anything. We don’t want to annoy smoking customers, especially those drunken ones, who might react very unexpectedly,” Mr Chin said.

Mr Chin did say, however, that his group members would let offenders know about the smoking ban. “Being licence-holders, we have to display smoke-ban posters and stickers as required by the government, or we will have to worry about applications for licence renewals in the future.”

Christopher Cheung Ka-ning, managing director of the Hong Kong Mahjong Company, a parlour in Wan Chai and an industry delegate, pointed out that mahjong rooms provided customers with free cigarettes.

“We will remove ashtrays but still give out free cigarettes,” he said. “We can only try to discourage them [patrons] from smoking here.

“I will definitely try to persuade them [not to smoke] and I will ask staff to do so if they find customers smoking. But if they ignore us, we can’t do anything else.”

Mak Cheong, a nightclub owner and spokesman for the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Ballroom and Nightclub Merchants, said his club would not even give “verbal notices to smoking customers”.

“If we find smoking customers, we won’t execute the ban,” he said. “We will just let the TCO [Tobacco Control Office] do it. We are not game to do the job. It means driving customers away.”

Under the law only offenders, not venue managers or landlords, may be summonsed by tobacco control inspectors. However, there are owners and managers who say they will play by the rules.

Ray Ng, co-owner of Halo and Volar, said he expected to see some losses from the ban, but his nightclubs were on board.
“Unfortunately, both our venues … are underground. Instead of going out to a balcony, I’m afraid our customers will have to walk up a staircase and come back in,” he said. “That’s unfortunate. Hopefully, in the long run, it will be better. Maybe fewer people will smoke.”

A spokesman for Wan Chai bar Mes Amis said there would be full compliance there, too. “We shall be toeing the line – no smoking, guaranteed,” the spokesman said. Ashtrays would be taken off the bar, and no-smoking signs would be hung up.
Gilbert Yeung Kei-lung, co-owner of Dragon-I, said his nightclub also backed the ban. “This is a world trend and I think the reason why the Hong Kong government and a lot of countries are doing this is for the good of people,” he said.

Lee Thomas, operations director for Beijing Club, Billion Club and Club No9, said his establishments would take no nonsense when it came to smoking on the premises.

The smoking ban “hasn’t affected the UK, it hasn’t affected America, it hasn’t affected Australia, it hasn’t affected Ireland”, he said. He said his clubs would all have legal balcony spaces for smoking.

Winners and losers
Anti-smoking advocates They’ve come a long way, but still have miles to go. Still, a victory’s a victory. Light ’em if you got ’em. (We’re just kidding, of course.)

Establishments with outdoor seating or balconies Smokers can puff away in peace, as long as venue operators don’t have an overhang blocking over 50 per cent of their outdoor space.

Tourists Even if handed a summons, there’s no mechanism to force visitors to show up to court, critics say.
Snitches An offender who smokes in a bar and leaves can still be slapped with a summons if a witness chooses to rat them out in court.
Your health Need we say more?

Smokers If caught by the city’s tobacco control inspectors, offenders can face a penalty of up to HK$5,000. That will change in September when the government switches to a fixed ticketing system of HK$1,500 per fine.

Tobacco companies Less puffing means less sales.

Bars and clubs in basement spaces or on the upper floors of commercial buildings Smokers may bolt for clubs with outdoor areas or balconies.

Smokers who drive with children in the car Plenty of people want to see this banned
Dan Kadison

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