SCMP Friday, October 5, 2001
Signatures show massive support for extra smoking bans
MARY ANN BENITEZ
Almost 200,000 people had signalled their support for government plans to make Hong Kong a smoke-free city, officials said yesterday.
By the end of the consultation period on Saturday, 203,727 signatures had been received on proposals to expand the ban on smoking in public places to restaurants, schools and workplaces, a spokeswoman for the Health and Welfare Bureau said.
Of these, 199,791 people supported the proposals, compared with 3,936 who opposed them. A further 10,104 written submissions were made but these were still being analysed, the spokeswoman said.
But she said she did not think the trend would be different from the initial findings which had showed general support for the plans.
An estimated 7,000 restaurant and bar owners and their employees staged a protest in Central on Tuesday against the proposed ban, arguing it would deal a crushing blow to the industry.
But officials say they are determined to implement the ban for the sake of public health. They say it will be introduced in stages, and have indicated that bars and karaoke lounges will be spared from the amended laws, expected to be enacted next year.
An anti-smoking advocate said yesterday fears of business and job losses in the catering industry were not supported by evidence.
Professor Lam Tai-hing, a member of the Council on Smoking and Health, said the reverse was borne out in their studies and by overseas experience.
A council study released in July found that if restaurants were smoke-free, 20 per cent of people questioned would eat out more often.
A further 77 per cent would not change their eating habits, while only three per cent would eat out less often. A total of 1,078 people took part in the study, of whom 157 were smokers.
"When smoking was banned on airlines it did not result in a fall in business - the same with a smoking ban in cinemas," Professor Lam said.
But a survey commissioned by the Catering Industry Association and released last week showed a total ban on smoking in restaurants could cost the catering sector $7.9 billion and lead to 21,500 job losses. The survey of 819 customers in 145 restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels was carried out by KPMG Consulting Asia in July and August.