Hong Kong's smokers still lighting up in bars

Fear of fines is not enough to make cigarette fans stub out their habit, and many bars turn a blind eye to the practice to keep customers happy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 June, 2013, 8:33am

You would have thought that having a smoking ban in Hong Kong would mean that World No Tobacco Day would be a big success. But yesterday, people were still happily puffing away in bars.

In 2007, the city implemented a smoking ban that applied to all indoor public places to rid the city's bars and restaurants of cigarette smoke. Meanwhile, yesterday's World No Tobacco Day was intended to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption across the globe. Each year. tobacco use leads to 5.4 million deaths worldwide.

But neither the legislation nor the occasion had any effect on many of the city's bars, whose owners blatantly ignored the ban.

Smoking legislation in Hong Kong, unlike jurisdictions elsewhere in the world, punishes smokers, not bars, for breaches. Rather than having bar-owners face the loss of their licences for failing to stop patrons from smoking, it is the individual smoker who faces prosecution. This means many bars are allowing smoking to continue.

The ban was first imposed at the start of 2007 for statutory no-smoking areas. A blanket ban on smoking in all indoor public places was introduced on July 1, 2009.

"We follow up all complaints about smoking offences received and arrange inspection to the concerned premises," a Tobacco Control Office spokesman said.

But bars in Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay were letting customers and staff smoke freely yesterday. One owner of a TST bar was happy to let people smoke because he was not breaking the law.

"I only tell my customers that if they are caught smoking they could be fined. But by law we are doing nothing wrong. If I told my customers they couldn't smoke, we would have to close. No one would come here," he said.

A Causeway Bay bar owner said it was part of Chinese culture to smoke.

"No one is going to complain about smoking in here. Everyone does it," he said.

Some bars in popular areas flout the smoking ban. In places such as Central and Wan Chai, smokers stand outside premises, but even inside these places people are lighting up because the owners are happy to turn a blind eye. This often happens in establishments above ground level.

Instead of going down to the street, customers are allowed to smoke in corridors or out of windows to save the hassle of going outside.

The Tobacco Control Office spokesman said in 2012, 600 inspections were conducted in bars and 242 fixed-penalty notices and summonses were issued to offenders. The office has 99 tobacco control inspectors to enforce the smoking ban. People caught smoking must pay a HK$1,500 fine within 21 days.