AN overwhelming majority of people want a ban on cigarette sales to children, it was revealed yesterday. Ninety-two per cent want new laws to prohibit the sale or gift of tobacco products to children under 18 or anyone wearing a school uniform. The survey by Hongkong University for the Hongkong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) also found support for tobacco sponsorship for sporting and cultural events waning from five years ago. The chairman of the Tobacco Institute, Mrs Jenny Fung Ma Kit-han, said manufacturers were also opposed to children buying cigarettes, but she said people misunderstood the nature of sponsorship and it was not designed to boost sales. Announcing the results of the survey yesterday, COSH chairman Dr Ronald Leung Ding-bong said they proved that measures such as banning smoking in shopping centres would be welcomed by smokers and non-smokers alike. Some 1,222 people over the age of 18 were interviewed for the survey, headed by Dr Cheng Kar-Keung of Hongkong University's department of community medicine. About 12 per cent were smokers, reflecting the proportion of smokers in the community. The survey also found: 96 per cent wanted smoking banned in all nurseries, kindergartens and schools; 80 per cent believed all workers should have the right to work in a smoke-free environment; 79 per cent wanted restaurants to designate half of their tables as non-smoking areas; 89 per cent backed the introduction of health warnings on the packets of tobacco products; 81 per cent wanted smoking banned in the public areas of banks and shopping centres. Dr Leung said smokers had supported many of the proposals, with about 60 per cent backing smoke-free zones in workplaces, banks and shopping centres. The survey results have been sent to the Health and Welfare branch and Dr Leung hopes COSH's proposals will be incorporated into legislation which may be introduced this year. The one area of the survey where there was no clear majority to restrict smoking-related activities was publicity and sponsorship, but Dr Leung said there had been a significant shift of opinion since the last survey five years ago. In 1988, more than half of respondents opposed banning sport and cultural event sponsorship by tobacco firms. The figure dropped to 40 per cent this year. ''There has been a swing of opinion to our side in support of banning sponsorship,'' Dr Leung said. ''But we consider the time is not yet mature to advocate the banning of sponsorship to the Secretary for Health and Welfare.'' Mrs Fung said tobacco companies did not want to sell to children and did not authorise the giving of samples to people aged under 18. But the industry would only back measures prohibiting sales to children when it became clear how they would be enforced. Asking vendors to check ID cards of young buyers would put them under too much pressure, she said. ''We believe smoking is an adult custom, we don't want children to smoke but it is a matter of enforcement.'' Mrs Fung said people misunderstood the reasons tobacco firms sponsored sporting and cultural events. ''It can help to maintain brand loyalty among smokers or it might get people to switch brands, but it does not persuade people to smoke,'' she said.