An estimated 7,000 restaurant and bar owners and their employees staged a protest march yesterday over plans to make Hong Kong a smoke-free city. It was one of the largest protests in the territory in recent years. Legislator representing the catering industry Tommy Cheung Yu-yan warned a ban on smoking in all public areas, including restaurants, bars and karaoke lounges, would deliver a crushing blow to the industry. Mr Cheung, who helped organise the protest, claimed about 7,000 employers and employees took part yesterday. He said it was the biggest demonstration staged by the territory's catering industry, and warned a larger protest would follow if the Government ignored their grievances and went ahead with the new smoking restrictions. The lawmaker also insisted restaurant staff had not come under any pressure from their employers to join the protest. It was the biggest in Hong Kong since more than 10,000 government employees protested against civil service reforms in July last year. Yesterday, protesters marched from Chater Garden to the Central Government Offices in Central, carrying banners and chanting slogans - many of them lighting up cigarettes in protest. The group also delivered a petition addressed to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. Mr Cheung said business at most restaurants had dropped up to 30 per cent for the Mid-Autumn Festival on Monday compared with last year. He feared there would be huge lay-offs if the downturn continued. He said the proposed smoking law would also deprive some restaurant employees who were smokers of their rights. Racehorse trainer and long-time smoker Brian Kan Ping-chee puffed on a cigar as he addressed the protest. 'Hong Kong has been getting worse since the handover - the Government is trying to ban almost everything, including smoking. Officials do not understand the life of people from the grassroots,' he said. 'We love to smoke when we have nothing else to do or when we want to relax,' Mr Kan, who has been a smoker for more than 40 years, said. Last week, the tobacco industry proposed reducing the size of cigarette billboards and adding health warnings on umbrellas that advertise cigarettes in an apparent move to bargain for more lenient restrictions from the Government. The Tobacco Institute of Hong Kong announced a series of proposals for self-disciplinary guidelines a day ahead of last Saturday's deadline on the public consultation on banning smoking by law in most public places. However, Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare, Eddie Poon Tai-ping, warned that legislation was necessary even though the Government welcomed the institute's proposals. Mr Poon said the Government might go ahead with a total ban on tobacco advertisements despite the industry concessions. Restaurants with more than 200 seats have to designate one-third of their area for non-smokers.