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August 24th, 2009:

Enforcers pleased with smoke ban compliance

Dan Kadison – SCMP

Most smokers are complying with the final phase of the smoking ban – and a new measure will soon provide a strong deterrent to those considering lighting up in prohibited places, a top law enforcement official says.

On September 1, the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Ordinance will go into effect, giving tobacco control inspectors, police and at least 1,000 government employees the power to issue fixed HK$1,500 tickets to those who puff away in smoke-free spots.

“A fixed-penalty ticket is quite, quite costly… We’re talking HK$1,500. It’s an expensive ticket,” said Chief Inspector Roger L.S. Mui, who has been working with the Tobacco Control Office since December. “People will think before they smoke in a non-smoking area.”

At present, 85 tobacco control inspectors issue summonses to law-breakers in smoke-free venues. Each summons carried a possible penalty of up to HK$5,000, but the actual fine imposed by the courts had averaged “around HK$500 to HK$1,000″, Chief Inspector Mui said.

Under the new ordinance, the summons scheme will be dropped and hundreds of “designated officers” from the departments of food and environmental hygiene, leisure and cultural services, and housing will be empowered to issue fixed-penalty tickets “in public venues under their management”, a Department of Health spokesman said.

Tobacco control inspectors have issued more than 14,000 summonses since January last year, when smoking became illegal in restaurants, workplaces and indoor public areas.

Bars, nightclubs, mahjong parlours, karaokes, massage venues and bathhouses lost their exemptions on July 1 – and, overall, the final phase of the ban was “working well”, Chief Inspector Mui said. People were following the law and venue operators were being “very co-operative”.

Health Department figures show 310 complaints were made about smoking in venues covered by the final phase and 45 summonses were issued by tobacco control investigators up to last Monday.

Chief Inspector Mui said publicity and education about the switch to fixed-penalty tickets, along with the wider net of enforcement, would further deter smokers. In the meantime, he said, ticket issuers had been trained and were ready to enforce the new ordinance. They had received instruction from Tobacco Control Office staff and police, who have been seconded to the office to train inspectors since 2005.

Is enough being done to police the smoking ban?


Your correspondents Allan Dyer and Annelise Connell should get realistic about smoking “offenders” inside buildings, lifts and bars (Talkback, August 17). Ms Connell claims that offenders are “criminal” and bar licence-holders should be penalised if they fail to enforce no-smoking rules.

She even suggests they should call the police every time an offender refuses to co-operate and, furthermore, that they should lose their liquor licences (and landlords the use of their premises) if they fail to report these “vice” cases to the police.

Let’s make it quite clear, smokers lighting up in the wrong places are not committing crimes. These offences are only misdemeanours in law and the police have much more important priorities than to welcome smoking complaints and send officers rushing to licensed premises to track down smokers.

If I were the local police commander, whose officers received repeated phone calls from a bar owner about this problem, I would issue a polite warning about wasting police time.

You have to face the reality. All you anti-tobacco lobbyists have been outwitted. You have been handed an utterly useless and almost unenforceable law.

Blasphemy and the use of foul language also continue to be offences, but we hear these on the streets all the time. Why not start a campaign about these “crimes” as well? Your correspondents have to get real.

P. A. Crush, Sha Tin