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Court Decision Bad News For Workers’ Health

Oct 14, 2008 – SCMP

The decision by the Court of First Instance to reject the appeal board’s support for the director of health – in his quest to prevent abuse by hospitality venues of the criteria for exemption from the indoor smoking bans of the 2006 Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance – is bad news for public health in Hong Kong (“Bars win in smoking-ban case”, October 9).

This section of the ordinance, on the designation of so-called qualified premises for exemption, must be the most badly conceived and unenforceable piece of legislation ever to reach the statute book.

The Department of Health’s legal advisers are clearly unable to help the director try and achieve control of this chaotic situation.

Furthermore, among all the arguments about revenue from sales of alcohol versus food, there is no room for the most salient issue that the legislation was supposed to address – namely the prevention of lethal health problems of the heart, lungs and blood vessels caused by second- hand smoke among catering workers.

When catering managers called for a level business playing field (which a comprehensive ban would provide), they were denied it. Instead the government and legislature created a major health hazard for thousands of workers in over 1,000 exempted sites.

This is in spite of the toxicological evidence in Hong Kong that the body fluids of non-smoking workers in smoking premises are heavily contaminated with tobacco chemicals. The disgraceful social injustice created by the poisoning of catering workers will continue unabated until at least next June.

But it is now vitally important that the movement to extend the exemptions and also introduce “smoking rooms” is stopped in its tracks before we do further damage to occupational health in this city.

Anthony J. Hedley, department of community medicine, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

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