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August 17th, 2009:

Is enough being done to police the smoking ban?


I would like to report that the Tobacco Control Office requires a very high standard of evidence before considering taking action against a smoker.

It is not enough for a complainant to have had multiple witnesses, even if some could identify and name the culprit, having seen him with a lit cigarette in a no-smoking area, and building caretakers who recorded the culprit’s name and identity card number – all recorded on closed-circuit television.

This relates to an incident on August 4, when I was leaving my workplace shortly after the typhoon signal No 8 was issued.

I immediately noticed that the lift was smoky and I pointed out a man holding a lit cigarette to the caretakers on the ground floor. I asked them to report the incident to the Tobacco Control Office for prosecution.

On Monday, four tobacco control officers visited my office, not to take my statement, but to explain the situation.

Apparently, this was a “minor offence”, with not enough evidence. If an officer had been present at the time, he could have requested the offender to put out the cigarette, and educated him about statutory no-smoking areas.

The situation will improve in September, when the office will be able to issue a HK$1,500 fixed-penalty fine – but the Tobacco Control Office does not plan to station an officer in the lift 24/7.

A tiny minority of smokers are so anti-social that they uncaringly release poisonous gases in lifts – the most enclosed spaces that we regularly use.

As the Tobacco Control Office will never have enough officers to station one in every lift, we must find other ways to stamp out this practice.

The office could publish explicit guidelines to the public on how to collect enough evidence to enable prosecution.

We could fit smoke detectors in every lift.

Does the office have the determination to seek out innovative ways of achieving its priority?

Allan Dyer, Wong Chuk Hang

In every bar and most restaurants in Hong Kong there is a tobacco control enforcement officer, namely the liquor licence holder.

Not one of them is “powerless” to prevent smoking.

They have the power and a duty, under their liquor licence, to call the police if someone is smoking.

They are required to prevent crimes, such as solicitation for sex, gambling and smoking, in their bar or restaurant.

They are very powerful. It is their deliberate choice to turn their workplaces into “vice establishments”.

Once the building owner is made aware, if the owner does nothing, then the police can shut the place down and the landlord cannot rent it out again for several months.

Annelise Connell, Stanley