The Hong Kong ex-police officers laying down the law on no-smoking zones
Tobacco Control Office created task force after criticism over low level of enforcement
Former policeman Kuan Chong-hoi retired from the force last year, but he is still relying on his experience in keeping public order in his new role – as a tobacco control inspector ensuring people do not light up in no-smoking zones.
Recently, he used the voice control skills he learned as a policeman to sternly order a man who was fleeing the scene, after he was seen holding a lit cigarette in a public transport facility in Chai Wan, to halt in his tracks.
Smoking is banned in all public indoor areas including malls and public transport facilities, and some outdoor areas such as parks. Offenders face a fixed fine of HK$1,500 (US$191).
Kuan recalled: “I told him not to run and said: ‘You have committed an offence. Stand still!’”
He is among a group of 20 former policemen, most in their 50s, spending their retirement cracking down on smoking offenders. They are part of a task force set up by the Department of Health’s Tobacco Control Office in December last year to strengthen enforcement, especially at night and on public holidays.
The office was criticised by the Ombudsman earlier this year for low enforcement of smoking regulations. The government watchdog said the number of penalty tickets issued at night was about one-quarter or one-third of the number issued during the day.
The office then cited the setting-up of the task force last December as a way to boost manpower, as it only had 89 tobacco control officers. Between its establishment and May this year, the task force conducted more than 3,300 inspections and prosecuted about 1,300 smoking offenders.
For the whole of last year, the office conducted 33,000 inspections and issued penalty notices to more than 9,800 smoking offenders. Twelve of the cases involved electronic cigarettes and more than 20 were related to heat-not-burn tobacco products.
The government is now proposing to regulate e-cigarettes and tobacco alternatives.
The office said it would probably enforce the law on e-cigarettes and tobacco alternatives similarly to how it handles offences with conventional smoking products.
Dr Manny Lam Man-chung, senior medical and health officer of the control office, said his colleagues had not faced additional problems when they confronted people using alternative tobacco products in no-smoking zones.
“People using e-cigarettes or heat-not-burn tobacco products also realised they were producing second-hand smoke,” Lam said.