Last-minute row as government pledges to study smoking rooms for restaurants The much-delayed and amended bill that will ban smoking from January 1 at most indoor workplaces and public places was finally passed into law yesterday. But controversy continued over the last-minute revelation by Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok that the government will study the feasibility of smoking rooms in restaurants and entertainment venues. The Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2005 was passed 2? hours after the debate resumed yesterday. The meeting was adjourned after nine hours on Wednesday night as legislators went through 18 amendment clauses. Dr Chow hailed its passage as 'historic'. 'In the end the government managed to find a balance to help Hong Kong move towards a no-smoking society. Today was a historic moment for both the community and for myself,' he said. 'It makes Hong Kong one of the most widely controlled smoking areas in the world.' But before the bill went through its third reading, bills committee chairman Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, of the Democratic Party, pressed Dr Chow as to why there was an apparent U-turn on the government's position on smoking rooms. Mr Cheng said verbatim records of the committee's meetings on three occasions showed Dr Chow's bureau and the Department of Health insisting that smoking rooms were 'unacceptable in the absence of WHO safety standards'. Dr Chow argued: 'The Democratic Party looks at it conspiratorially, whether there is a plot behind it. I would not be influenced by anybody.' Much of yesterday's debate focused on Mr Cheng's amendment to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to children in school uniform. But catering sector legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who wore his school colours, said: 'We are not legislating to catch vendors selling cigarettes to young people.' Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, who watched the debate from the public gallery, said she was disappointed the amendment banning sales to children in school uniform was not passed. 'That seems extraordinary. The vendors are not allowed to ask for ID cards. It would have been much easier for the vendors if there was a ban on school uniforms,' she said. The Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention, which represents 310 primary and secondary schools and 10 parent groups, said it was outraged. 'We would like to register our extreme anger,' it said in a statement. 'The government says it wants to discourage children from smoking yet it would not support the school uniform amendment.' The law empowers the secretary for health to appoint inspectors to enforce the ordinance and removes the statutory requirement for managers to display no-smoking signs. The grace period before licensed hawkers must not display tobacco ads will be extended from one year to November 1, 2009. Nightclubs, commercial bathhouses, massage establishments, mahjong parlours, designated mahjong rooms in clubs and certain bars must implement the smoking ban by July 1, 2009. Public parks will have designated smoking zones. The law prohibits the display of descriptive words on tobacco packets and retail containers that may have a misleading or deceptive effect.