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Smoking Room Study In Final Phase

SCMP, Dan Kadison – Updated on Dec 22, 2008

Little more than six months before the smoking ban is to be enforced in bars and other now-exempted venues, the government is entering the final phase of a study of smoking rooms that may offer bar owners a way around the curbs.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department has almost finished building a trial smoking room, along lines recommended by consultants this year, and tests by the Food and Health Bureau will begin next month, according to a source close to the project.

Bar owners see such rooms as a lifeline, enabling them to retain smoking customers, who according to some account for up to 85 per cent of their patronage.

At least one pub has built its own smoking room with financial help from tobacco giant Philip Morris.

Progress on the trial was outlined in a government paper, obtained by the South China Morning Post.

The Food and Health Bureau, in a September brief written for the food business taskforce of the Business Facilitation Advisory Committee, said its advisers had run computer simulations on the best way to clean the air in a smoking room.

They had decided the test room should be built with a ventilation system that brought fresh air in through the floor and took smoke out through the ceiling. A source familiar with the plan said the department had almost finished the room.

“Experiments will start next month,” the source added. “Quite a number of people should be able to smoke there … it’s a pretty big room.”

Health minister York Chow Yat-ngok announced in 2006 that government-commissioned consultants would consider the viability of smoking rooms.

The study began in August last year – months after the first stage of the smoking ban took effect.

The source said computer modelling had shown that a well-designed smoking room would allow hardly any smoke to escape and next year’s report could support them. “A smoking room can definitely be built,” the source said. “It’s not an impossible mission. It’s how you design it.”

Anti-smoking-campaign leader Anthony Hedley said that the introduction of smoking rooms “would be nothing short of a scandal”.

“To actually start creating these intensive sources of tobacco chemicals inside buildings, inside catering facilities, is madness,” said Professor Hedley, chairman of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

Last month, the commissioned consultants joined a group of government and trade representatives for a tour of two smoking rooms: a HK$300,000 British American Tobacco ventilation showcase in Chai Wan; and a smoking room inside 2020 By SK, a Causeway Bay bar.

The bureau is expected to report its findings to the Legislative Council in the first quarter of next year.

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