New anti-smoking law passed

    The Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2005 was passed into law in the Legislative Council today (October 19).

     A Government spokesman said that with the passage of the bill, the vast majority of indoor areas of workplaces and public places, such as restaurants, offices, schools, hospitals, markets, karaokes and bars which were frequented by people of different ages were required to ban smoking from January 1, 2007.

     The spokesman said six types of "qualified establishments" - nightclubs, commercial bathhouses, massage establishments, mahjong parlours, designated mahjong rooms in clubs and certain bars - may implement the smoking ban by July 1, 2009 the latest.

     These establishments, however, had to restrict entry to only those people who were aged 18 and above, comply with other conditions which were set to ensure that they were genuinely in one of these six businesses, and notify the Department of Health during the interim, the spokesman explained.

     Within any public pleasure ground under section 107(3) of the Public Health and Municipal Service Ordinance (other than bathing beaches), the smoking ban would not apply to smoking areas to be specified by the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services (DLCS).

     The DLCS will ensure that these smoking areas are away from children's playgrounds, sporting grounds or main thoroughfare to minimise the disturbance to other users.  The DLCS will consult the respective District Councils in the process of specifying the smoking areas.

     Apart from the above mentioned areas, the spokesman said the smoking ban was also to be imposed on certain outdoor areas, including:

*open areas of hospitals (whether public and private);
*open areas of all schools, including university campuses;
*public bathing beaches;
*public swimming pools (pool areas and spectator stands);
*Hong Kong Stadium and Mongkok Stadium (turf pitch areas and spectator stands);
*public transport interchanges;
*Hong Kong Wetland Park; and

     Smoking is also prohibited in living accommodation provided by an employer to two or more employees, except private dwellings where employers and employees live together, such as accommodation provided for employees (domestic helpers) within the employer's own residence.

     Regarding public transport interchanges, the amendment ordinance will empower the Director of Health to designate as a no smoking area by notice published in the Gazette, the whole or part of any area that consists of the termini of two or more modes of public transport, or of any bus terminus of more than one specified route as defined in the Public Bus Services Ordinances (Cap 230).

     Due to prioritisation of resources, this will be implemented at a later stage, after a fixed penalty system for smoking offences have been introduced, the spokesman said.

     The amendment ordinance also empowers the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food to have the authority in appointing inspectors to take enforcement actions under the Ordinance.

     The new law also removes the statutory requirement for managers to display no smoking signs.  Managers of no smoking areas would have the flexibility to decide where and how to post signs or make other arrangements to remind users of the smoking prohibition.

     The amendment ordinance prohibits the display of descriptive words on tobacco packets and retail containers which may have misleading or deceptive effect.  It also stipulates that health warnings must be displayed on tobacco packets and retail containers.  The grace period given to licensed hawkers for display of tobacco advertisement will be extended from one year to three years, that is, up to November 1, 2009, the spokesman added.

     Speaking at the resumption debate on the second reading of the bill in the Legislative Council, the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr York Chow, said Tobacco Control Office (TCO) inspectors would act on reports and complaints and target on strategic "black spots" to enhance inspection and enforcement.

     Dr Chow added that upon the enactment of the amendment ordinance, the TCO would launch a series of publicity and public education activities to make known the legislative requirements.  Announcements in the Public Interest (APIs) on television and radio will be produced, workshops will be conducted for managers, pamphlets and other educational material will be given out to the general public.

     The TCO will also promote its tobacco cessation service.  It will continue to work with the Tobacco Control (Smokefree Restaurants) Working Group to publicise the new legislative requirements within the catering industry.  The government-funded statutory body, the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH), will continue its publicity campaigns to educate the public on the harmful effects of smoking and secondhand smoke.

     The bill was introduced into the Legislative Council on May 11, 2005.  More than 50 Bills Committee meetings were held, including public hearing sessions attended by a total of over 100 deputations from representatives of the medical sector, youth concern groups, non-government organizations, the catering, entertainment and hospitality industries, licensed newspaper hawkers, tobacco companies, and individuals.

Ends/Thursday, October 19, 2006
Issued at HKT 19:34