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LCQ10: Enforcement action for selling tobacco products to persons under 18

    Following is a question by the Hon Leung Yiu-chung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (January 9):


     Will the Government inform this Council:

(a) in the past two years, of the number of prosecutions instituted by the authorities against the offence of selling tobacco products to persons under the age of 18, and the number of inspections conducted by the Tobacco Control Office (TCO) of the Health Department to combat such an offence; how such figures compare with those of the previous two years; if the relevant figures are different, of the reasons for that; and

(b) whether it will consider increasing the manpower of TCO in order to step up the efforts to combat the above offence; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


Madam President,

     My reply to the question raised by Hon Leung Yiu-chung is as follows:

(a) Since October, 2006, Tobacco Control Inspectors (TCI) of the Tobacco Control Office (TCO) under the Department of Health (DH) have been conferred the power to take law enforcement action for offences under the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance (Ordinance), (except Part III) including Section 15A(1), i.e. no person shall sell any cigarette, cigarette tobacco, cigar or pipe tobacco to any person under the age of 18 years. A person who contravenes this provision commits an offence and is liable on a summary conviction to a fine at level 4 (i.e. $25,000).

     Apart from routine inspections at tobacco retail outlets, the TCO will also launch thorough investigation and take relevant enforcement action upon reports made by members of the public. If it is found that a tobacco retail outlet has sold tobacco products to minors or if there is a breach of any provision of the Ordinance, the TCIs will institute a prosecution by way of summons.

     Before being conferred the power to take enforcement action for offences under the Ordinance, staff of the TCO conducted a total of 49 inspections in 2006, and in collaboration with the Police, prosecution by way of summons was instituted in two cases involving the sale of cigarettes to persons under the age of 18 years. In these two cases, the offenders were fined $800 and $400 respectively. In 2007, the TCIs conducted 64 inspections and issued two summonses to offending tobacco retailers. One case was heard by the Court on September 13, 2007 and the offender was fined for $1,000. Hearing of the other case is pending.

(b) The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has adopted a step-by-step approach to contain the extensive use of tobacco and reduce as much as possible the impact of passive smoking on the public through a wide range of measures, including legislation, taxation, publicity, education and law enforcement.

     Publicity and education focuses on promoting public awareness of the statutory smoking prohibition and the extent of statutory no smoking areas under the Ordinance, soliciting the co-operation of the relevant industries in managing their premises to achieve a smoke-free environment, and making appeal to the self-discipline of individuals and consideration for the health of others to promote voluntary compliance by smokers. Nurturing a social culture that respects the statutory smoking prohibition and exerts public pressure for compliance with the prohibition remains the key to effective and smooth implementation of the smoking prohibition.

     Since the passage of the amendment to the Ordinance in October, 2006, the TCO and the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (the Council) have launched a series of media and publicity programmes with a view to building support for the smoking ban, promoting public awareness of the new legislative provisions, in particular the statutory smoking prohibition and the extent of statutory no smoking areas, and encouraging smokers to quit. More than 1.7 million copies of educational material such as smoking signs and posters have been distributed by the TCO. Work on this front will continue and will be further strengthened.

     Different strategies and approaches have been used for publicity and promotion targeting different age groups to disseminate the message of smoking prohibition. With regard to publicity and education for young people, the TCO has specifically produced for schools guidelines and display boards for implementing tobacco control measures at schools as well as promotional leaflets targeting at teenagers.

     In 2007, the Council continued to organise various school health education programmes. In addition to 130 health talks conducted in secondary and primary schools, the Council also arranged a tour of an interactive education drama in 48 primary schools. The Council also collaborated with the Radio Television Hong Kong in organising a "Teen Power x COSH T-shirt Design Competition" and a "Voice Your Support to a Smoke-Free Hong Kong Campaign" to stimulate young people's concern about the problems of smoking and passive smoking.

     In regard to legislation, apart from amusement game centres, statutory no smoking areas have been expanded since January, 2007 to cover places where young people frequently visit, including all schools, tertiary institutes and universities. Most public pleasure grounds and other indoor public areas have been designated as statutory no smoking areas as well.

     As mentioned above, the current duties of the TCIs include taking follow-up action on complaints about illegal sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18 years and enforcement of the relevant legislation. The number of TCIs has been substantially increased from some 30 in 2006-07 to more than 70 to date. The manpower and work arrangement of the TCO will be further reviewed from time to time to ensure that actual needs are met.

     We strongly believe that to prevent young people from smoking, parallel efforts in education and law enforcement are essential. The Government will continue to promote a no smoking culture among our young people through publicity, education and effective law enforcement and prevent them from acquiring the smoking habit as far as possible.

Ends/Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Issued at HKT 14:46


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