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Smoking Ban Looms Over Protesting Entertainment Sector

Austin Chiu, SCMP – Jun 10, 2009

The government has vowed to extend the smoking ban to cover entertainment businesses next month, as scheduled, despite vigorous opposition from the entertainment sector.

Lisa Lau, chairwoman of the Council on Smoking and Health, yesterday called on the sector to observe the ban, which she said would protect the health of staff and customers.

There has been a smoking ban in most indoor and public areas since January 2007, although bars, nightclubs, bathhouses, mahjong rooms and massage parlours were granted an exemption until July 1 this year. Ms Lau said the restaurant industry had not been hurt by the ban and that business increased 13.4 per cent in 2007 after the ban was enforced.

The percentage of the population over the age of 15 who smoked dropped from 14 per cent in 2005 to 11.8 per cent in 2007 after the ban was introduced, she said.

Jessica Li, spokeswoman for the karaoke chain California Red, said that since the ban the percentage of staff who smoked at its outlets had dropped from 70 to 30.

Patrick Chiu Cho-ho, president of the Chinese Cuisine Management Association, said banning smoking created a more attractive dining environment, attracting non-smoking customers to restaurants.

But Chin Chun-wing, vice-chairman of the Bar and Club Association, said the smoking ban would be a further burden on the entertainment sector, which had already been hit by the financial downturn, because 90 per cent of customers were smokers.

He called on the Food and Health Bureau to consider deferring the smoking ban for another two years.

“We are not asking for a smoking licence but only for more time to weather the financial downturn,” Mr Chin said. “If the government insists on enforcing the ban next month, our members will turn a blind eye to smoking customers.”

Last month, hundreds of entertainment business operators and patrons demonstrated over the ban.

Lillian Chan Yun-lin, of the Entertainment Business Rights Concern Group, said entertainment establishments had seen their business drop by more than half since the financial crisis and swine flu scare. “My workers are worried that they will lose their jobs after the ban comes into force,” she said. The group might organise another protest if the government did not  reconsider the move.

A bureau spokesman said it had no plans to postpone the ban.

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