Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

August 28th, 2009:

Tobacco officers drop planned protest at enforcing smoking ban

Ng Yuk-hang – SCMP

Tobacco control officers who had threatened industrial action have backed down four days before the smoking ban is extended.

Their union held a meeting with the Tobacco Control Office yesterday, which said later it expected a full team of 80 officers to report to work next Tuesday.

Last week an anonymous representative of the Temporary Union of Tobacco Control Office Employees said its members would take sick leave next Tuesday, accusing the office of wasting taxpayers’ money, the union’s website said.

The head of the Tobacco Control Office, Ronald Lam Man-kin, said they had met the officers individually or in small groups to “listen to their concerns”.

“Our impression is that no one seemed to have plans to apply for leave on that day,” Dr Lam said.

He said the government had a framework on applying for leave and anyone who deviated from this risked dismissal.

The union issued a statement saying that after collecting advice from various parties the industrial action had been postponed to “avoid affecting all Hongkongers”.

The smoking ban will be extended to 48 covered public transport interchanges from Tuesday. On the same day, offenders will receive a fixed penalty of HK$1,500 instead of a summons.

Up to July 31, more than 3,700 summonses had been issued, Dr Lam said, with offenders being fined an average HK$800.

From Tuesday, 2,200 staff of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, 700 of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and 430 from the Housing Department will be empowered to issue penalty tickets in areas under their control, such as libraries, beaches and shopping centres.

Some employees have said they would not enforce the ban, citing concerns over personal safety and workload.

Dr Lam said more than 20 talks and on-the-spot training had been offered to more than 2,000 staff from these departments, but he understood that these staff members would have normal duties to carry out.

“The office will still design operations for places such as libraries. We might have joint action,” he said. “For the Tobacco Control Office, it is business as usual.”

The smoking ban was extended to six types of entertainment venue on July 1. Dr Lam said inspections had been smooth and that there were no reports of violence in bars, nightclubs, pubs, mahjong parlours, massage shops and bath houses.

By yesterday, there had been 125 inspections of such establishments but only 53 summonses had been issued – including 36 involving mahjong houses and five in bars. No summonses had been made in massage shops and bath houses.

Dr Lam said the success of smoking controls should not solely depend on the number of inspections and summonses, but also the number of people who had quit smoking because of the ban and the increased tobacco tax.

By the end of this financial year, the office will have a full team of 99 tobacco control officers, with about 55 as contract workers.

Dr Lam said these contract posts would ultimately become civil service positions, but he did not mention a conversion timetable.

Union members had complained that a four-day induction course for new recruits was too short.

Dr Lam said extra training would be offered every year, with topics including violence prevention.

The work of new recruits would also be under close supervision, he said.