Lawmakers seek swifter start to fines for smoking

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2006, 12:00am

Lawmakers yesterday called for early introduction of a fixed penalty for smoking in non-smoking areas, which the government said could be introduced in 2008.

Deputy health director Leung Ting-hung told a meeting of the Legislative Council's bills committee on the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2005 that it would take 12 to 15 months for the government to put the subsidiary legislation in place, while 18 to 24 months would be required to establish a computer program for the penalty system.

But most lawmakers said it was 'too long and unreasonable' to take more than a year to put the new fines into effect.

'It's impossible to use such a long time to set up the computer network ... we can just apply the same one we had for the littering penalty system,' Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said. But Dr Leung said time was needed to write a new program and for a trial run of the system.

Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan said the government would investigate whether the penalty system could start earlier.

According to the proposal submitted by the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau to the Legislative Council early this month, smoking in non-smoking areas would instantly incur a fine of $1,500.

The proposal, part of the government's proposed bill to ban smoking in restaurants, bars and karaoke lounges, gained support from many legislators, including the Democrats, the Liberals and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The legislators also questioned whether the government had enough manpower to implement the penalty system. They said that as well as Tobacco Control Office inspectors and the police, staff from other departments such as the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department should be empowered to issue fines.

Democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming suggested the government set up a hotline for people to report smokers who violated the law. Currently, smokers are usually fined $500 to $600 if they are brought before a court and convicted.