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Probe on amid stink over smoking-ban checks

The Ombudsman will investigate enforcement by the Food and Health Bureau and the Department of Health of the smoking ban in public places.

Its move comes after a barrage of media reports and public complaints over an ineffective government campaign, with critics slamming the ban as practically useless.

The bulk of the complaints center on the failure to deploy plainclothes officers.

Complainants also criticized the failure of certain departments to cooperate with the Tobacco Control Office and support its enforcement actions.

A preliminary inquiry by the Ombudsman found that the bureau and the health department have set up a mechanism to inspect no-smoking areas and conduct prosecutions.

Cooperation with other statutory authorities, including the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Housing Department and the police have also taken place.

However, the watchdog found that smoking-ban violations at certain spots remain serious, while many locations have turned into persistent black spots, raising questions over the adequacy of the existing mechanism.

“The government’s current tobacco- control policy aims to encourage people to quit smoking and minimize risks posed by second-hand smoke to the public,” Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said.

“The designation of no-smoking areas is an integral part of that policy. If the purpose of no-smoking areas is defeated by ineffective enforcement, it would mean a failure to discharge the duty of safeguarding public health, and thus it is a disappointment to the public.”

The investigation seeks, among other things, to find out if the mechanism of the bureau and the department for handling smoking offenses is effective. It will also look at how they coordinate their efforts with other statutory authorities in tobacco control and identify areas for improvement and enhancement.

The public have until April 14 to provide their written comments to the Ombudsman.

Smoking blackspots reportedly include restaurants and cooked food centers.

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