Smoking ban 'to halve entertainment venues'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 March, 2009, 12:00am

More than half the city's entertainment premises will be forced to shut down if the full smoking ban comes into effect as scheduled in July, industry representatives have claimed.

But the government says it has no plans to postpone the measure.

The Entertainment Business Rights Concern Group - which represents all bars, nightclubs, sauna parlours, clubs with mahjong rooms and mahjong-tin kau premises - yesterday urged the government to exempt the industry from the law.

'The industry's business has already gone down by 30 per cent because of the financial crisis. And about 90 per cent of their customers are smokers,' chairwoman Lillian Chan Yun-lin said. 'The government will be putting us to death if it implements the ban.'

Smoking was banned in most indoor places two years ago. Temporarily exempted, entertainment premises are due to fall into line on July 1.

Tobacco Control Office head Ronald Lam Man-kin said the government had no plan to postpone implementation. 'The government is taking measures to help business operators adapt and enforce the law,' he said.

Further delay would subject already smoke-free businesses to unfair competition, and the law would benefit the health of staff and customers, he said. The office would boost enforcement of the law by adding 15 inspectors to the existing team of 85 in the coming year.

'I hope the operators will not obstruct our inspections,' he said.

A government poll of 1,018 people conducted this week found 74 per cent supported implementation of the smoking ban in all entertainment premises. Almost half said they would continue to visit such places after the ban.

But Anita To Miu-yu, executive secretary of the Hong Kong Bars and Karaoke Rights Advocacy group, said she believed business would decline if the ban came into effect, causing shutdowns.

'At least 50 per cent of these entertainment places will have to shut down,' Ms To said. 'The entertainment-related industry has nearly 100,000 employees. Including other related industries such as cleaners and taxi drivers ... there are about 300,000 staff.'

A woman who has worked at a mahjong parlour for 20 years feared she would lose her job after the ban. 'The ban will affect our business and I'm afraid I'll be sacked ... I'm more worried about losing my job than inhaling second-hand smoke.'

Ms To said the businesses as a last resort might agree to build smoking rooms.