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Staff too busy to enforce smoking ban, say unions

Regina Leung, SCMP

Two unions representing government workers said on Wednesday their members were too busy to hand out fixed-penalty tickets to people violating Hong Kong’s anti-smoking laws.

Their comments follow the extension on Tuesday of anti-smoking laws to include 48 public transport interchanges, bus terminals, wet markets, beaches and housing estates.

Some 2,200 staff from the Leisure and Cultural Service Department, 700 from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and 430 from the Housing Department are responsible for enforcing the new penalties.

But the Leisure Service Staff General Union and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s Staff Rights Union, said its members could not perform these extra duties because they did not have sufficient manpower.

However, Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Cheuk Wing-hing said most of his staff had assured him they would not ignore their new duties.

“There is no truth to the allegations that our staff will refuse to do this work. There are 12 staff unions – which represent about 5,400 staff – involved in this enforcement work,’’ he said.

“All of them have pledged to stand firmly by their duties and will execute departmental guidelines when enforcing the new laws,” said Cheuk.

Cheuk said his staff had already issued six verbal warnings to offenders since the ban was extended to wet markets and public transport interchanges.

He said the department would provide training to enforcement officers.

Leisure and Cultural Services Department director Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee also said her staff had issued 800 verbal warnings to offenders on Tuesday.

Fung said the department understood union concerns about staff having too much work.

The extension of the smoking ban is part of the tough anti-smoking laws first introduced in early 2007.

They are controversial – with some organisations, such as karaokes, pubs and restaurants, arguing they will hurt their businesses.Smoking kills around 6,000 people in Hong Kong each year and passive smoking is estimated to kill around 1,000, experts say.

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