Suspect held over beating after clash with restaurant smokers

Fox Yi Hu

Police arrested a 51-year-old man over an assault on a group of celebrities and academics after they called on diners at a North Point restaurant to stop smoking.

Veteran Diaoyu Islands activist Or Wah, who was badly beaten in the attack, said the Tobacco Control Office hotline had failed to provide any assistance over the incident because it was answered by an automatic message machine.

The arrest was made yesterday afternoon in North Point. The suspect is a local resident, although the attackers reportedly spoke Putonghua in the restaurant.

Mr Or, his wife and seven friends - including barrister Wong Hin-lee and journalism professor Leung Tin-wai - were dining at Fung Shing Restaurant on Monday when they asked eight men at an adjacent table to put out their cigarettes.

After the smokers responded with threats and profanities, Mr Leung and Mr Or complained to restaurant staff and called the Tobacco Control Office. But warnings to the table were ignored and the office phone was only taking messages.

The smokers left the restaurant, but returned shortly after with two more men. They attacked Mr Or and the Wongs with chairs and glasses, leaving the two men bleeding heavily and the woman with a swollen arm.

Mr Or later had 16 stitches in hospital. Mr Leung, a former tabloid magazine editor who had his left hand severed in a 1996 attack at his office, was not injured.

'The anti-smoking law is not working at all,' Mr Or said. 'It's unjust for us citizens to bear the responsibility [of enforcing it].'

He said the Tobacco Control Office took no action other than recording their complaint in a 'bureaucratic' way, adding that he believed the city's 130 anti-smoking inspectors were far from enough.

Christine Wong Wang, a director of the office, said limited resources often impeded action against offenders. 'It only takes a few minutes to finish a cigarette so it's difficult [for our inspectors] to arrive at the scene on time,' she said.

Dr Wong said more than 500 summonses had been issued since January to people flouting the smoking ban, adding that about 10 per cent were related to restaurants.

The office had inspected Fung Shing Restaurant and found inadequate non-smoking signs.

The Democratic Party said in a statement that it was shocked at the attack and urged the government to submit a bill on fixed fines for breaking the smoking ban.

It said enforcement of the anti-smoking law must involve various government departments, including the police and Customs, similar to the way the anti-litter law is enforced.