Lawmaker defends minister accused of tobacco ban U-turn Catering sector legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan yesterday said health chief York Chow Yat-ngok visited a smoking room in Central in June on his invitation. His comment is in apparent defence of the beleaguered Dr Chow, who has been accused of making an about-face on smoking in public places. Legislators were in a huff last week over last-minute revelations by Dr Chow, secretary for health, welfare and food, during the second reading of the smoking amendment bill, that he planned to study the feasibility of smoking rooms. The bill was passed into law on Thursday. It outlaws smoking in restaurants, karaoke bars and bars frequented by people of different ages from January 1. Several legislators accused Dr Chow of making an about-face after months of saying that smoking rooms were unacceptable, with some saying he was helping Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen secure support from Election Committee members. Dr Chow has denied there was any political compromise. Mr Cheung said yesterday he had been trying to convince Dr Chow to give smoking rooms a try and in mid-June the health minister visited a smoking room at The Edge Bar and Restaurant in Central. 'I finally convinced York Chow to have a look at the smoking room,' Mr Cheung said. 'On the day we visited the smoking room, he indicated to me that ... he would have to do research [on smoking rooms] with other government departments.' Mr Cheung said smoking rooms could be established in many places, including shopping malls. 'This is not an excuse, this is a workable, practical way of confining smokers to a room indoors where it does not affect non-smokers,' he said. Dr Chow said yesterday the government should conduct a feasibility study of smoking rooms. He said he had tried discuss the issue but some lawmakers had not agreed to meet him. Medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki said yesterday he did not mind Dr Chow visiting smoking rooms. 'But the point is the government has repeatedly said there is no scientific proof that a smoking room is workable in terms of making sure that air quality is up to standard,' Dr Kwok said. 'If the government cannot find any evidence that the idea of a smoking room is workable, how can it even defend the necessity of conducting the study?' Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, said the idea of a smoking room was 'a non-starter'. 'Even if the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau investigated, they would find it unworkable. And by that time, restaurants would be used to being smoke-free and they would not even want it,' she said.