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We don’t have time to issue tickets for defying smoke ban, staff say

Ng Yuk-hang – SCMP

Officers responsible for issuing fixed-penalty tickets for illicit smoking from Tuesday next week have been told to give priority to their original duties, raising fears they will not have time to enforce the smoking ban.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department Staff Rights Union said a new guideline had recently been issued to frontline staff saying they should perform their original duties first. “Smoking control is not our priority,” union chairwoman Li Mei-siu said.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said smoking enforcement “will not overtake the current core duties and work priorities” of its staff. The department would continue to review whether it had enough manpower.

The two departments and the Housing Department are responsible for handing out tickets to those who smoke in premises and venues under their management, such as libraries, wet markets, beaches and housing estates.

Ms Li said her co-workers might not even have enough time to finish their duties in venue management, with only 200 staff responsible for managing 150 wet markets and cooked food centres.

“Without giving us more manpower and resources, how can we perform the extra duties?” she said.

Law enforcement would only be effective when the officers worked in teams, she said. “If there is only one staff member issuing tickets, offenders may escape or use violence. There would be no one to help,” she said.

Under the new guideline, staff would be even less motivated to catch illegal smokers. “Citizens will think we are shirking, but in fact we simply have no time,” she said.

The department should modify its guideline and, more importantly, assign a team of staff specifically for issuing penalty tickets, she said.

A department spokesman said more than 20 training sessions had already been provided for the 700 staff who would soon have the power to issue penalty tickets. He did not comment further.

Leisure Service Staff General Union chairman Gary Cheung Siu-wing said his colleagues had no time to perform the extra duty. The workload had been “very heavy” for the 1,600 staff of the leisure services branch, who, in addition to managing more than 1,000 swimming pools and beaches and more than a million trees, would also be responsible for issuing penalty tickets.

“We cannot even finish our proper work,” he said. “It is like asking firemen to catch thieves on their way to a burning building. Issuing tickets might also threaten our personal safety.” He urged his colleagues to concentrate on getting their original duties done first.

A Department of Health spokesman said it “sincerely hoped” staff of these departments would enforce the smoking ban according to the law. A total of 17 training sessions had been offered by the Tobacco Control Office since March this year to staff of the three departments.

By July 31, the Tobacco Control Office had issued 3,718 summonses this year. Some 31 per cent involved games centres, 16 per cent shopping malls and retail outlets, and 14 per cent restaurants.

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