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No Plan To Beef Up Tobacco Control Staff

Peter So – Dec 30, 2008 – SCMP

The Tobacco Control Office has no plan to expand its team of inspectors, even though their workload is expected to increase in July when a fixed-penalty fine is launched to punish people who break smoking laws.

Office head Ronald Lam Man-kin even admitted that not all posts had been filled – there are 60-odd officers in a team meant to have 80.

“Whether we can expand the team will depend on how much budget we will be granted in the upcoming financial year,” Dr Lam said.

The budget for the office was increased by HK$2 million to HK$25 million this financial year.

The workload of officers is likely to increase next year when tighter anti-smoking measures come into effect, such as the fixed-penalty fine. Also, exemptions to an indoor smoking ban will expire for more than 1,000 bars, clubs, bathhouses and mahjong parlours, and nearly 100 public transport interchanges will become no-smoking areas. Inspectors will be authorised to issue fixed penalties while carrying out their current duties, such as handling complaints and promoting the no-smoking law.

Dr Lam acknowledged the inspectors would be allowed to enforce the law in more places, but he insisted the “work model” of inspectors remained unchanged – meaning they would mainly enforce the law after receiving complaints. He rejected fears that the workload would be too heavy. He said officers of the Leisure and Cultural Services, Housing, and Food and Environmental Hygiene departments would also issue tickets.

However, legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said the team should be expanded to about 120 and their pay increased. Inspectors are paid HK$10,000 to HK$21,000 a month.

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