Almost half of respondents to a government survey would be prepared to pay more to dine in a smoke-free restaurant. The survey, commissioned in January, was designed to assess public attitudes towards a proposed smoking ban. It found 40 per cent were willing to pay more in support of a ban. Speaking on a Commercial Radio radio phone-in programme yesterday, the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, said the government must implement a total smoking ban. He said it would decide the way forward within six months, after taking into account the estimated economic impact. The legislature is due to discuss the issue tomorrow. 'The international and the Hong Kong experience suggests that these things have to be done in phases . . . so in principle we say smoking should be banned, but we are taking in all the views before we make the decision,' Dr Yeoh said. The government is also considering the possibility of extending any smoking ban to karaoke bars, universities and offices. The idea has drawn opposition from the tobacco and catering industries, which have said a degree of flexibility should be allowed if and when the ban is implemented. 'We do not support a wider smoking ban across the board. Instead the government could gradually expand the non-smoking areas in restaurants, or let them decide whether they want to go smoke-free voluntarily,' said Doris Ho Suet-yee, vice-chairman of the Tobacco Institute of Hong Kong. Ms Ho said in light of the economic downturn it was not an appropriate time to introduce the ban to the catering industry, and that it was not fair for the industry to bear the burden of enforcing the proposed ban. Smoking has been banned in shopping centres, department stores, banks and supermarkets since July 1998. Restaurants with more than 200 seats have to designate one-third of their area for non-smokers. Meanwhile, tobacco companies and retailers yesterday helped to kick off a high-profile campaign aimed at preventing the sale of cigarettes to people aged under 18. Posters reminding buyers of the ban will be posted in 10,000 cigarette sale outlets while frontline staff will be trained to say no to underage smokers who want to buy cigarettes. But Professor Anthony Hedley, chairman of the Council on Smoking and Health, said that it was cynical of the tobacco companies to support a smoking ban for youths while continuing to promote their products to adults. 'The campaign was designed to impress the legislators in the hope that they would argue for less stringent regulations on the smoking ban,' he said. Professor Hedley said the tobacco companies had been using every available opportunity to promote cigarettes to young people, by giving free packs away at rave parties in Shenzhen and on Web sites. 'They want to promote the product to any age. They need to recruit more young smokers, otherwise the market will collapse,' he said. Professor Hedley said the campaign was a half-hearted effort because past surveys showed some retailers turned a blind eye to the fact that their customers were underage. Some shopkeepers even broke the packs and sold the cigarettes individually, he said.