Several big catering chains embrace the inevitable, banishing smoking before the new law passes The approach of the smoking ban in eateries and bars has already had the desired effect on some of the city's big restaurant chains before the bill is tabled in the legislature for a final vote later this month. Anti-smoking activists yesterday described the news as a victory in their campaign for a smoke-free city, with a catering industry leader admitting defeat in his fight against the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill. Tao Heung Holdings made all of its 37 Chinese restaurants smoke-free in August and the Federal Restaurants Group also banned smoking recently in six of its eateries. Maxim's, the city's largest dining group, with more than 330 restaurants, will also follow suit next month with a smoke-free trial scheme in its Jade Garden restaurants in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui. The firm, which banned smoking in its fast-food shops last year, said it would consider expanding the policy if it received a favourable response from customers. Some hotels have also adopted a smoking ban in their restaurants. A Mandarin Oriental spokesman said a cafe and another restaurant had become smoke-free after opening last week following renovation. Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, a Liberal Party lawmaker representing the catering industry, said the sector's fight against the ban was basically over. He believes his two amendments to the draft bill, which proposed restaurants install smoking rooms and delaying the bill's implementation, will be voted down. 'I have never given any wrong impression to my constituents that we will win this fight,' he said. 'We are not going to have enough votes in Legco [to block the bill].' The bill has come under attack from the catering and entertainment industries during the past two years. They claim it will hurt their businesses. Under the legislative schedule, the bill, which prohibits smoking in indoor workplaces, restaurants, billiards rooms, karaoke venues and bars open to all ages, will go through its second and third readings in the Legislative Council on October 18. It is expected to be passed and come into effect on January 1, with support from the Democratic Party, Civic Party and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Sonia Kwok Woon-hau, an assistant manager of the Tao Heung chain, said its new policy had been implemented smoothly. 'Of course, there are clients who do not like the smoking ban, but we explain the policy to them with some patience and they do listen. We think this is an education process,' she said, adding that the impact on business was 'minimal'. 'The effect is small and within our expectations. We think it is pretty natural. And we get a lot of praise and encouragement from other customers on this move,' she said. Catherine Ching Siu-yi, a director and executive manager of the Federal group, said its pilot scheme had gone well. Medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki, who has campaigned for the bill's passage, said: 'These latest moves from restaurant chains prove that the claims that a smoking ban would cost business are just wrong. They have also demonstrated that a smoking ban in restaurants is not hard to enforce.'