Wed, Jan 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

HK delays plan to go smoke-free after intense lobbying

CHANGE OF HEART The Hong Kong government yesterday opted to reverse a decision to ban smoking in public places by the middle of this year

DPA , HONG KONG

Hong Kong officials yesterday backtracked on plans to make the former British colony Asia's first smoke-free city after angry opposition from restaurants and karaoke bars.

The government had initially planned to make smoking illegal in all offices, work places and indoor premises by the middle of this year with heavy fines for anyone caught flouting the ban.

Delay

But after intense lobbying from the restaurant and entertainment industry, health secretary York Chow (周一嶽) told legislators yesterday the ban would now not be put into place until January 2007.

Even then, he said, it would not apply to nightclubs and mahjong parlors in the city of 6.8 million which will have until 2009 before the smoking ban is extended to them.

All offices and indoor working places, along with restaurants, bars, and karaoke lounges and offices and workplaces, will have to ban all smoking on their premises by the beginning of 2007.

Some legislators accused the government of being browbeaten by the restaurant lobby in Hong Kong and told Chow officials should have stuck to their original plan to totally ban smoking this year.

Lost business

However, Chow responded: "The [entertainment] trade felt if we imposed an anti-smoking ordinance within a very short time, they would definitely face a loss of business and eventually even closure.

"Three years or so after the enactment of a law is a reasonable time and perhaps the ultimate limit that we can accept," Chow said.

Critics voice concerns about a smoking ban driving away tourists and having a detrimental effect on the city's restaurant industry but the government has until now brushed aside such objections.

Approximately one in six of Hong Kong's residents is a smoker and the World Health Organization estimates that 16 people a day die from tobacco-related illnesses in the city.

The ban on smoking will bring Hong Kong in line with the Republic of Ireland and a number of cities in the US, including New York, which prohibit smoking in all bars and restaurants.

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