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Ban too much of a drag for bar staff

Ng Yuk-hang and Dan Kadison, SCMP

Smokers defy threat of HK$5,000 fine as law leaves smouldering ill will

Staff at bars, massage houses and mahjong parlours were reluctant to ask their frequent customers to butt out on the first day of full enforcement of the smoking ban yesterday.

Some customers continued to puff away despite the risk that they might be fined up to HK$5,000 when found lighting up in bars, nightclubs, pubs, mahjong parlours, massage establishments and bathhouses.

“It was deadly embarrassing. [The frequent customers] are normally friendly to us, but once we talk about the smoking ban they would make a stern face at me,” Anita To Miu-yu, executive secretary of the Hong Kong Bars and Karaoke Rights Advocacy group, said.

While outlets could no longer provide ashtrays, some came up with other methods to facilitate their customers. Hong Kong Licensed Massage Association chief executive Jimmy Chow Chun-yu said he would not stop his clients from smoking and would give them a glass of tea. “They can do whatever they want with the glass,” he said. “If we try to stop them and get injured because of this, it will be so unfair. We do not want to get into trouble.”

He said he would leave enforcement to the inspectors of the Tobacco Control Office.

In a mahjong parlour in Tsim Sha Tsui, an employee named Ms Ho said she had health problems because of prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke. “Now that the air is clearer it should be better for my health,” she said.

Meanwhile, owners and managers were uncertain whether sales had been burned by full enforcement of the smoking ban. Both Ms To and Mr Chow said the effect could only be seen after a week.

“Customers at a few tables left sharply at midnight to protest against the ban,” Ms To said.

“It is possible that they would not come back anymore.”

She added that the industry was heavily affected by swine flu and the financial meltdown. In April and May, bars were 30 to 40 per cent full, she said.

Last week, a Department of Health spokesman called on venue managers to be co-operative in the final phase of the ban.

“Venue managers are authorised to require any smoker to stop smoking in the no-smoking areas,” the spokesman said. “They can request those [who] refuse to produce proof of identity and address for follow up; or ask them to leave the no-smoking area.”

Still, only offenders caught smoking – not venue managers or landlords – can be fined.

The Tobacco Control Office received three complaints between midnight and 5pm yesterday, a spokesman said.

Two complaints were bar-related and one involved mahjong premises, he said.

The office had the resources to cope with hundreds of complaints every week and it investigated every grievance lodged through its 2961 8823 hotline, Ronald Lam Man-kin, head of the office, said last week.

From 2007 to the end of June, tobacco control inspectors handed out more than 13,000 summonses, Dr Lam said. Smoking inside bars, nightclubs, clubs, mahjong parlours, massage establishments and bathhouses became illegal in Hong Kong at midnight yesterday.

Those venues now join the city’s other smoke-free locations, which include restaurants and offices and other workplaces.


Clear The Air says: The Government must realise they do not have enough Tobacco Control Officers

and follow overseas’ jurisdictions that ‘require’, not ‘authorise’ the venue managers to enforce the anti

smoking ban – if they do not they are fined. If they are caught twice they lose their venue licences.

Liquor licensees are already legally ‘required’ rather than ‘authorised’ not to serve alcohol to drunk

persons under their licence conditions and the smoking requirement could be included in their licence conditions as an addition , for example under Condition 7 of a liquor licence ; this requires the licensee

to prevent the premises from being used ‘for any illegal purpose.’ This should be changed by the

addition of 7 words to :

7. The licensee shall not permit any person to occupy or use any portion of the premises for any immoral or illegal purpose including smoking or carrying lit tobacco products.

This is the easiest and most efficient way to make rogue premises comply.

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