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January 7th, 2008:

Bars Keep Right To Host Smokers

Bars keep right to host smokers ( SCMP 6 Jan)

Mary Ann Benitez – Jan 06, 2008

A year after smoking was banned in public places, only one of 1,300 entertainment establishments granted exemption from the law until mid-2009 has lost that status.

Post 97 in Lan Kwai Fong lost its exemption 10 days ago after the Tobacco Control Office (TCO) deemed it to be a restaurant, meaning the ban should apply.

Six types of venues can apply to be exempt from the ban until July 1, 2009: bars that do not admit anyone under 18, mahjong clubs and parlours, commercial bath houses, massage establishments and nightclubs.

Since late 2006, the Tobacco Control Office said it had received about 1,500 applications for exemption, of which more than 1,280 were granted.

Delisted establishments may appeal to the Appeal Board within 14 days of losing their exemption.

Post 97 said it would not appeal. Its sister bars, La Dolce Vita and Club 97, are exempt from the ban.

Jamie Higgins, general manager of Post 97, was frank: “We are a restaurant, and we are not entitled to allow people to smoke. That is the law, in fact we were lucky to get away with it for as long as we did.”

He said that despite knowing the venue was a restaurant, they still applied for an exemption.

“Under the new law, so many restaurants and bars were applying for it, so we thought it would be easier to apply for it and then decide later on,” he said.

Mr Higgins added: “If anything, what the smoking ban will do is to bring us back more business at the weekend because children weren’t allowed to come to the restaurant because people were smoking.”

The TCO said: “We collect intelligence on non-compliance from various sources and upon receipt of such information, will investigate each and every case accordingly.”

Legislators have said the smoking ban is difficult to enforce because the TCO lacks inspectors.

Yesterday, anti-tobacco lobbyists wrote to legislators urging them to press the administration to “rescind these ludicrous politically motivated smoking exemptions”.

James Middleton of Clear the Air said there should be no exemptions. “To do otherwise is signing the death warrants of the staff and is encouraging our youth to smoke,” he said.