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Bar Owner’s Last-gasp Effort To Avoid The Ban

Dan Kadison, SCMP – Updated on Dec 22, 2008

Standing in a cold, dimly lit and airy room, I did something that could be illegal by the middle of next year – lit up a cigarette in a bar.

Fresh air descended from above into the negatively pressurised enclosure while the fumes twirled out through a ceiling vent and a horizontal vent built into a wall-mounted countertop.

No smoke could be seen drifting out of the room into the main bar area, even with the double doors open.

I was in a smoking room built by a Causeway Bay bar owner and his business partner in an effort to show that such a ventilated enclosure can work.

Eric Wong, owner of 2020 By SK, and Anita To regard it as a last-ditch effort before the extension of the smoking ban to exempted bars on July 1. They have converted a VIP karaoke room at a cost of HK$300,000, with financial help from the Philip Morris tobacco company.

“If [we] don’t try it, [we] die anyway,” said Mr Wong, whose small, stylish bar has been open on the 20th floor of the Bartlock Centre on Yiu Wa Street for five years. The 100 sq ft room can hold more than 10 people and its double doors would never both be open at the same time, as they were when I took my puff.

Mr Wong, who runs nine bars and restaurants in Yiu Wa Street, said he was already feeling the financial squeeze caused by the smoking ban. He is planning to close two upper-floor restaurants in the Bartlock Centre after the Lunar New Year.

Business in both spots had dropped 70 per cent since the first stage of the ban, affecting restaurants and other premises that admit people under 18, went into effect early last year.

A smoking ban for bars would end 2020 By SK’s run, said Mr Wong and Ms To, officers of the Hong Kong Bars and Karaoke Rights Advocacy group.

“Over 85 per cent of our customers are smokers,” said Ms To.

A group of 20 people, including government and trade representatives, looked at the smoking room last month and stood outside as someone puffed away inside the enclosure.

“The overall system is very effective,” said one. “We were standing outside, with both doors open, and we could still barely smell anything from that smoking room.”

Lewis Cheng, project manager for Advance Technology Air Condition Engineering, the company that built the room, said: “We won’t let the client open both doors – just one by one. There’s a buffering area [between the double doors], and an exhaust vent too.”

Before being pumped outside, the dirty air was cleaned by an ionising device, he said.

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