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Delay In Smoke Ban?

Delay in smoke ban would help us beat crisis, bars say

Dan Kadison – Nov 24, 2008 – SCMP

Bar owners say a delay in the next phase of a smoking ban would help business as they struggle to cope with the economic downturn, which they expect to start to bite early next year.

Smoking has been banned in most indoor places since last year. Bars and nightclubs, exempted from the ban, are expected to fall in line by July 1 next year.

But Chris Lenz, founder of Igor’s Group, a chain of restaurants and bars including The Cavern and Stormy Weather, is hoping the ban will come into effect a year later.

“It’s better for our business,” he said. “The fiscal crisis isn’t helping things. Certainly, next year is going to be a challenge, there’s no question about it. Anything that can be thrown into the pot that can help would be appreciated.”

Bar owners said sales could start decreasing by January.

“Half-a-dozen to a dozen regulars of mine have lost their jobs in the past two or weeks. They’re not going to be partying next year,” said a Wan Chai bar owner who asked to remain anonymous.

Agreeing something needs to be done, legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan sees an alternative to the ban – smoking rooms. “I think some bars might not even last until next year,” he said, adding that those that ride out the downturn will have to deal with the ban, and that could “wipe them out”.

“If the government doesn’t want to see a lot of closures in bars, entertainment [venues], massage parlours, mahjong parlours…and nightclubs, it should think about allowing smoking rooms,” he said.

Mr Cheung, chairman of the Hong Kong Catering Industry Association, believed last year’s smoking ban was implemented too quickly, but he had no plan to call for the law’s suspension.

“I’m going to see what’s happening with the smoking room,” he said. “I feel strongly that if there was a smoking room, it would be OK.”

Meanwhile, PolyU Technology and Consultancy has found in a survey that 41 per cent of restaurants and businesses suffered a drop in sales in the first half of last year, compared with the same period in 2006.

The three-part, 18-month study was commissioned by the Catering Industry Association.

Local environmental group Clear the Air last week called on PolyU Technology to issue another report using government data that shows restaurant receipts had mostly risen in the quarters before, during and after the ban.

For instance, receipts increased 11.6 per cent in the second quarter of last year, compared with the same period in 2006, according to data from the Census and Statistics Department.

“The usual tactic of the tobacco industry is to spread doom and gloom,” James Middleton, of Clear the Air, said.

“These figures [from the government] prove conclusively that the anti-smoking legislation in restaurants, which have been proven to work elsewhere in the world, in many countries, also work in Hong Kong,” he said.

Responding to the call by Clear the Air, Mr Cheung said: “I don’t want to be here arguing about what is right and what is wrong. Clearly, everybody by now knows that 2007 was a very good year – with or without the smoking ban. The question you need to ask [is] if we did not have a smoking ban … could [it] even be better?”

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