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Legco Chief Rejects Idea Of Flexibility In Smokers’ Fines

May Chan – Jul 02, 2008 – SCMP

Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai has rejected a proposed amendment to the anti-smoking law that would allow people caught puffing illegally to spend the amount of the penalty on a course to help them kick the habit.

The amendment, proposed by democratic legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, was to have been raised for discussion in Legco today.

But Mrs Fan dismissed the amendment as irrelevant to the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Bill, which proposes a fine of HK$1,500 for smoking in places where it is banned.

The rejection was in accordance with Legislative Council procedures, which stated that an amendment “must be relevant to the subject matter of the bill”, she wrote in a letter on Monday.

Mrs Fan also pointed out that the proposed fixed-penalty bill did not provide or allow other options to relieve the offenders of their legal responsibility to pay the fine.

So it was not necessary to further discuss Mr Cheng’s proposal, including its implications for government spending, she said in the letter.

Mr Cheng accused Mrs Fan of being inflexible and ignoring the will of the wider public.

The Democratic Party conducted a telephone survey of 779 people last week, 22 per cent of whom are smokers. Of the respondents, 79.7 per cent supported the notion that, with the passage of the HK$1,500 fixed penalty for smoking, fined smokers should be given the choice to spend the money on smoking cessation services, which they agreed should not cost more than HK$1,500.

A similar percentage said the government should spend the revenue from the smoking penalty on setting up a fund to subsidise smoking cessation services.

Mr Cheng said he would seek to push the government to set up such a fund.

“I am most regretful over the council’s rejection of my proposal,” he said. “I don’t understand why the smokers’ money can’t be spent on smokers, to help them quit. It is a shame that my proposal is not even being given the chance to be debated and voted in the council, despite its popularity among the public.”

He went on to say that there had been a regression in democracy since the handover.

According to Mr Cheng, 31 proposed amendments had been turned down since 1997, on the grounds of being “out of the scope” of the discussion topic. That accounted for 53 per cent of the 58 amendments proposed to Legco from 1997 to 2008.

“Legco should not be rigid in following rules, and should consider options that are practical and responsive to the practical needs of the public,” Mr Cheng said.

The Food and Health Bureau had earlier written to Legco outlining the financial implications of Mr Cheng’s proposal. It could cost, they said, HK$18.7 million a year to provide extra clinics and subsidised services, as well as HK$7.9 million for an information system and HK$960,000 in yearly administrative costs.

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