Legco passes bill setting smoking fine at HK$1,500
A bill to impose a fixed-penalty fine on people caught illegally lighting up under the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance was passed by the Legislative Council yesterday.
Smokers caught in no-smoking areas will be given a fixed fine of HK$1,500, to be settled within 21 days. If the offenders fail to settle the fine in time, they will receive a letter requiring payment within another 10 days. But if they still fail to do so, a court order will be issued.
The bill also gave officers of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Housing Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department the power to issue the tickets to complement the efforts of the Tobacco Control Office. Three thousand officers from the three departments will join 85 tobacco control officers in enforcing the law.
Under the smoking ban, which came into force in January last year, offenders are summonsed to court, where they can be fined up to HK$5,000, but are usually fined about HK$700.
Tobacco Control Office inspectors are empowered only to collect evidence on offences and to issue summonses, but are not empowered to make arrests. Under the new legislation officers will have the power to issue fixed-penalty tickets.
Democratic legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo was disappointed that his proposed amendment allowing offenders to spend the fine on a quitting course was rejected.
The proposed amendment was dismissed by Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai on Monday. She ruled that it was irrelevant to the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Bill.
Li Kwok-ying, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said Mr Cheng's proposal would complicate matters.
He added the government should provide more training to officers to help them enforce the system.
Some officers were worried the workload might be too high and also that they might have difficulties when dealing with offenders.
The chairman of the Council on Smoking and Health, Homer Tso Wei-kwok, believed the fixed-penalty system would help reduce time in court and probably be a deterrent.
The government is considering offering Tobacco Control Office officers civil service contracts to ease manpower concerns. It also plans to strengthen the anti-smoking drive by utilising NGOs.
Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said a date for the legislation to be introduced had not been set.