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New tobacco ban proposal allows for casino smoking areas

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One year after the new tobacco control law passed first reading at the Legislative Assembly (AL), the Government has sent a second draft for lawmakers to analyse. The new proposal allows casinos to set up designated smoking areas but removes the exemptions for saunas, massage lounges and dance halls initially proposed.
According to the draft sent to the AL on Friday, casinos have a one-year period to create smoking areas “up to a maximum of 50 percent of the total public area, as long as they are physically separated from the remaining facilities”.
These designated areas will also have to “meet the technical requirements” to be defined in a later Chief Executive dispatch. Last November, the Health Bureau director Lei Chin Ion revealed a study had been commissioned into the effectiveness of air purifiers in controlling tobacco smoke in casinos.
In the original draft, saunas, massage lounges and dance halls were also allowed to set up smoking areas, after a transition period of one year. But these venues, as well as bars, will now have three years to prepare for a full smoking ban.
“I’m disappointed,” Samuel Chan, the director of the Smoking and Health Life Association of Macau, told Macau Daily Times.
“In my opinion, I would like to have a 100 percent ban on smoking indoors. We had been trying to convince the responsible people and do some lobbying ourselves,” he said.

Workers’ plight

Other changes

• Smoking ban won’t include the antechamber, entrance and surrounding areas of cinemas, theatres and show venues
• Smoking will be enacted on open-air areas of restaurants, karaoke lounges, casinos, bars, saunas, massage lounges and dance halls
• Limits of 1mg of nicotine and 10mg of carbon monoxide on cigarettes sold in Macau were removed
• Health Bureau will be in charge of testing cigarettes for nicotine and tar levels
• Health warnings will be placed not on the upper part but on the lower part of cigarette packs
• Chief Executive will set a minimum price for tobacco products
• Three years after the law comes into effect, the Health Bureau will prepare a report on the law’s effect on local smoking rates
• Tobacco products already in circulation that claim to be “less harmful” will include a special warning
• All publicity on tobacco must be removed within the first 90 days after the law comes into effect

The casino exemption and the transition period for other entertainment venues will be done at the expenses of workers’ health, Chan bemoaned.
“The employees in those places will continue to suffer from second hand smoke and their health will worsen, especially their lung function,” he said, a view shared by the World Health Organisation (WHO). An exemption or transition period “would in fact single out a specific population – casino workers, not to mention customers – whose right to health will be significantly threatened,” WHO official James Rarick warned last year. “It is not sound public health policy,” the Manila-based expert underscored.
However, the director of University of Macau’s Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming, Davis Fong Ka Chio, believes this issue “will not be very troublesome”. “Whenever I go to the casinos, I can see some of the employees smoking,” the economist told MDTimes.

“I would encourage the casinos to allow dealers and workers who don’t feel so comfortable in smoking areas to work in the non-smoking zones.”
Rarick disagrees: “There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke”. “Complete prohibition of smoking in all indoor environments is the only intervention that effectively protects people,” the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative official said.

‘No more delay’

The Smoking & Health Life Association of Macau will still make a final effort to “convince lawmakers to carry out some kind of amendment”. But, Chan added, “What I don’t want to see is more delay”.
Even though he feels the new proposal was a “concession” from the Government to the gaming and entertainment sector, “it’s better than a delay”.
The compromise is seen as “a good move” by Fong, who claims the gaming industry “needs to make room for smoking gamblers”. The one-year transition period is also “good enough,” he said, as “some casinos already have areas for non-smokers”.
Several gaming industry representatives, including the American Gaming Association president Frank Fahrenkopf have warned that a smoking ban could lead to a 20 percent drop in revenues.
“So far it’s just a claim,” Chan stressed. In fact, he added, his association is looking to launch a survey to find out if the smoking ban could lead mainland Chinese tourists to give up on coming to local casinos.
The creation of designated smoking areas will not affect the gaming revenues, Fong said. “We have more tables than we need in some casinos. Operators can adjust the distribution of tables between smoking or non-smoking areas according to the demand,” he recalled.

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Responsible Right of Expression — In the interest of freedom of expression, coupled with a true sense of responsibility to encourage community dialogue, the Macau Daily Times offers its readers the opportunity to express their opinions on new-related matters through this website. All opinions are welcome. However, we reserve the right to remove comments that are deemed to be obscene, or are merely insults written under the cloak of anonymity. MDT