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Tougher Laws On Way for Smokers, Says Health Chief

Anita Lam, SCMP – Dec 11, 2008

The smoking ban will be expanded in the second half of next year to include covered public transport interchanges, along with a fixed penalty system for smokers who flout rules.

Open-air interchanges would be the next target, the health minister said yesterday.

But bus drivers said there was nothing they could do to enforce the rules apart from advising passengers, who are often seen smoking in enclosed interchanges, where smoking is already banned.

Speaking in the Legislative Council, health minister York Chow Yat-ngok said his ultimate goal was to establish a smoke-free city, and he would also consider raising the import tax on tobacco.

He said government statistics showed that the number of smokers aged between 15 and 19 had fallen from 3.5 per cent in 2005 to 2.4 per cent recently.

At the same time, however, the number of cigarettes sold that incurred duty jumped 9.1 per cent, from 3.44 billion cigarettes between October 2006 and September last year to 3.76 billion a year later.

Dr Chow said this could be due to an earlier change in policy that cut the number of cigarettes that incoming visitors could bring from six packs to three.

“Another reason may be that the hard work of the Customs Department in tackling smuggled cigarettes is working so people need to make the purchase via normal channels.”

A fixed penalty of HK$1,500 for a smoking offence is expected to come into effect in the latter half of next year, as the Department of Health is taking the final steps in formulating an administrative and information system to implement the law.

“We hope the new penalty system can come out at the same time when public transport interchanges are designated no-smoking areas,” Dr Chow said.

Kowloon Motor Bus said it would advise drivers to warn commuters if they received complaints, but a spokeswoman did not say if it would encourage drivers to report cases to the Tobacco Control Office.

A Post employee saw a woman smoking openly inside the Lam Tin bus interchange – which is already classified a smoke-free area as it is largely indoors – without being challenged.

Chung Chung-fai, staff union chairman at New World First Bus, said giving warnings was probably the best option as few drivers wanted trouble.

Even if they informed the Tobacco Control office, “by the time they get through, the commuters will have long gone”.

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