The Government yesterday defended the launching of a 10-member tobacco control office - even though the new body has no power to enforce anti-smoking legislation. The team will help managers and staff of restaurants and other public premises comply with and, at a later stage, enforce anti-smoking laws, said Assistant Director of Health (special health service), Dr Cindy Lai Kit-lim. Creating a smoke-free culture in Hong Kong cannot be achieved 'by enforcement alone', she said. Dr Henry Kong Wing-ming, a senior medical officer who heads the new Tobacco Control Office under the Department of Health, said his office did not have the power to prosecute. 'For the time being, enforcement will not be our priority,' he said. From April, 'several dozen' tobacco control officers will be recruited on contract terms. But the officers will not have the power to arrest people. The new office was announced by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in last year's Policy Address. At the time he promised that the inspection teams would be able to prosecute people caught smoking in shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas. A total of $20 million was allocated for smoking initiatives this financial year. An additional $5 million to $6 million a year would be allocated as recurrent spending for the new tobacco control office from the next financial year, Dr Lai said. Dr Kong said a survey carried out by the Health Department found the majority of restaurant managers believed it would be easy to enforce the law. The latest government figures reveal that some 3,500 prosecutions were made under the anti-smoking legislation in 1999. No figures were available for restaurant offenders last year, but Dr Kong believed there were only a few. Dr Kong also spoke of the difficulty cited by restaurant managers in complying with the requirement that restaurants with more than 200 seats designate a third of their area as non-smoking zones. He said many managers surveyed felt it would be easier to enforce a total ban on smoking in restaurants.