By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Macau has taken a solid step towards a smoke free city as the tobacco control bill passed the final reading yesterday after more than 14 months of deliberation at the legislature.
Some lawmakers still vetoed the provision that permits casinos to set up smoking areas and also opposed the implementation date of the smoking ban, arguing that it should come into effect sooner.
According to the law, smoking will be prohibited in a list of designated indoor areas from January 1, 2012, while casinos will be required to build a smoking area with a size not larger than 50 percent of total public area by January 1, 2013.
Bars, dance halls, sauna and massage parlours will be granted a three year grace period where a full smoking ban will be applied from January 1, 2015.
New sales requirements of tobacco products such as labels, packages and the maximum level of tar will come into effect from 2013.
Ng Kuok Cheong, Au Kam San, Chan Wai Chi, José Pereira Coutinho, Ho Ion Sang voted against the partial smoking ban in casinos; while Kwan Tsui Hang and Cheang Chi Keong abstained from voting.
The lawmakers believed that casinos should be subject to a complete smoking ban as soon as possible in order to protect the thousands of workers from exposure to second-hand smoke.
Coutinho said he is ‘disappointed’ that a review of the effectiveness of smoking areas in casinos will only be carried out in 2016. Au also told the Legislative Assembly that research studies of the World Health Organisation (WHO) have showed that a smoking ban will not harm business and a separate area for smokers is unlikely to reduce the adverse impacts of non-smokers’ health.
In addition, Ho Sio Kam, Mak Soi Kun and Ho Ion Sang deemed that all school campuses, including those of higher education institutes and vocational training centres, should have a smoke-free environment whether indoor or outdoor.
Ng, Au, Chan and Coutinho also opposed the smoking areas for inmates in the prison.
‘Easy part’ of the job
Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Cheong U, admitted that it was difficult to balance the interests of all sides in drafting the law, but stressed that the government had made a great effort to narrow down the differences of opinions.
Cheong told lawmakers that casino regulations were determined after taking into consideration the WHO’s advice that a smoking ban can be implemented in stages according to the actual social and economic situation of a jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, the secretary reiterated that the government’s ultimate goal is to introduce a full smoking ban of all indoor areas, but has begun with ‘the easier part of the job’ for now.
Meanwhile, Cheong said the Health Bureau (SSM) will launch a series of publicity campaigns to promote the new law in schools and the community, and tobacco control inspectors will also be given training in communication and law enforcement skills.
According to SSM director Lei Chin Ion, the law will be enforced by around 70 tobacco control inspectors, including the current 30 bureau health inspectors, plus support from the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) as well as the Public Security Police.
Lei disclosed that a state key laboratory is currently conducting an investigation into the air quality of Macau’s casinos, and the results will be used to determine the requirements for smoking areas on gaming floors.
Moreover, the SSM director told the legislature that the bureau, DICJ and the Labour Affairs Bureau are in talks with the six gaming operators regarding guidelines to introduce the new measures, as well as health insurance, regular medical check ups and also job rotation between smoking and non-smoking areas to protect casino employee’s health.
He told reporters after the plenary meeting that gaming enterprises have shown support for the program, but pointed out that discussions will continue to review details and decide whether guidelines will be mandatory.
In response to questions about the delayed enactment of the law, the official explained that time is needed to prepare the ‘hardware facilities’ and allow locals to become familiar with the new restrictions.
He stressed that the government did not deny the detrimental effects of tobacco smoke, and the clinic service to help people quit smoking will be expanded in the near future.
He also added that the legislature yesterday passed the final reading of the draft bill to abolish the 0.5 percent stamp duty for intermediate transfer of real estate, a government measure to increase the cost of speculation.