90 officers ready to enforce wider ban on smoking

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am

Recruitment of tobacco control inspectors is almost complete, with more than 90 officers ready to enforce the extension of the smoking ban at about 130 outdoor transport interchanges.

Tobacco Control Office head Dr Ronald Lam Man-kin said the budget allowed for employment of 15 more this year, so the total number of inspectors would be 99.

The office had staff turnover of 31 per cent in the 2008-09 financial year. Lam said that after the office began switching contracted inspectors to permanent civil service status, turnover dropped to 15 per cent. Staff turnover made it hard to provide a specific number of officers.

Lawmakers will discuss details on the implementation of the extended ban on April 12 and district councillors will hold talks on the issue in May. Lam said it was finalising details with the lands and justice departments, and expected the extension of the ban to take effect before the end of the year.

All inspectors were given adequate training in difficult situations, such as when smokers became violent after being fined, Lam said.

Recent safety training involved medical workers sharing their experiences in dealing with mentally ill patients who had violent tendencies.

Lam said safety inspectors were equipped with walkie talkies, fluorescent vests and dog repellent in case they carried out inspections at night or in remote locations.

He said past statistics showed that most smokers would obey the rules.

Among more than 17,600 inspections last year, only seven involved physical assault, and there were two cases of verbal intimidation, Lam said.

A total of 1,477 fixed penalty tickets had been issued since September last year. Some 4,180 summonses were issued in January to August 2009. A HK$1,500 fixed penalty ticket replaced summonses issued against smokers who flouted the ban.

The Department of Health hopes to get 1,000 more smokers to quit the habit with the extension of the smoking ban on outdoor transport interchanges and a proposal to limit the number of duty-free cigarettes a person could bring into Hong Kong, Lam said.

The duty-free limit proposed in the budget will be reduced from 60 - or three packs - under present rules to 19 cigarettes.

Lam said the office was still drafting details with the Customs Department, which would be announced in the third quarter of this year.

Besides enforcement, Lam said it would promote anti-smoking messages through hi-tech channels, such as Facebook and YouTube. 'We may find creative advertising agencies to help us come up with campaigns that would target young smokers.'

Those who join the department's online scheme to give up smoking will soon receive mobile text messages, instead of just e-mails, to encourage them. 'Our goal is to get more people to quit than last year,' he said.

Last year 4,138 smokers joined the quit-smoking schemes offered through the health department, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and the Hospital Authority. In 2008, there were 2,438.

In July last year, the smoking ban was extended to all bars, nightclubs, mahjong parlours and massage establishments. In September, the ban was widened to include all 48 covered transport interchanges.

Still puffing away

The Department of Health hopes to get 1,000 Hongkongers to stop smoking this year

Census and statistics figures of 2008 show this proportion of people in Hong Kong smoke: 11.8%