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Macau tobacco law must pass by Aug 2017: health boss

Lei Chin Ion, the director of Macau’s Health Bureau, said on Wednesday his department wants to see the government’s draft of the revised tobacco control bill complete all necessary scrutiny and approval prior to the city’s current legislative term ending in August 2017. If the deadline is missed, the current proposed legislation would fall and the process – which began in July 2015 – would have to start afresh.

Mr Lei added that his department had yet to decide if it supported the idea of allowing the continuation of smoking lounges on the main floors of the city’s casinos. The draft bill originally submitted had envisaged a total ban on all smoking inside the city’s casinos. Investment analysts have noted that casino markets that entirely ban in-casino smoking usually experience a fall in casino gross gaming revenue (GGR), as players are forced to exit the casino in order to indulge their habit.

But a working committee of the city’s Legislative Assembly tasked with scrutinising the bill had in May suggested that with use of the right technical know-how and other safeguards for the health of non-smokers, the retention of smoking lounges might be feasible. Macau has already been buffeted by two years of sustained declines in casino GGR that investment analysts have associated with China’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. Only in the past three months have there been signs that the market’s casino GGR might be stabilising, a number of senior industry executives have said.

“We are still collecting opinions regarding whether to have smoking lounges inside casinos, and are now studying this subject,” the Health Bureau’s Mr Lei told reporters on Wednesday following a closed-doors meeting of the working committee. Mr Lei doesn’t sit on the body, but as head of the Health Bureau had been invited by lawmakers to attend that day’s committee session.

Bill deadline

“What we strive to do is to see this bill approved before the current legislative term ends [in August] in 2017,” Mr Lei added.

The Health Bureau director declined to comment on the likely date the provisions of the bill would come into force, assuming it is passed before August next year. Aside from the contested issue of casino smoking lounges, the measure proposes more restrictive terms for sales of tobacco products and a ban in Macau on the sale of electronic cigarettes.

Prior to the two-month summer recess of the Legislative Assembly – a break that ended on October 15 – a majority of the relevant working committee had shown support for the retention of smoking lounges on casino main floors, the committee’s president Chan Chak Mo told reporters on May 26.

The working committee’s support for smoking lounges is on condition that second-hand smoke can be kept away from casino staff, and from guests that don’t smoke, Mr Chan said at the time.

Smoking on casino main floors in Macau is currently only allowed in airport-style enclosed smoking lounges that do not contain any gaming tables or slot machines. Casino operators have been required to get approval for such facilities. Having a cigarette while gambling is at present still allowed in Macau casino VIP rooms.

Speaking to reporters after meeting the government on Wednesday, committee president Mr Chan noted that the majority of his working committee had not changed its stance regarding the retention of smoking lounges inside casinos. He further noted that his committee is to discuss the subject with government officials in the next meeting. That meeting is yet to be scheduled.

“There is a deadline to it [the government’s study of the retention of smoking lounges],” Mr Chan noted on Wednesday.

“Because this year is the final year of our legislative term [the fifth term of the Legislative Assembly], this means if this bill cannot be approved before August 15, 2017, it will have to be scrapped,” the legislator stated.

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