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Gov’t urged to take lead in complete casino smoking ban

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image Angela Leong

In a Legislative Assembly (AL) plenary session, numerous lawmakers, including Angela Leong, who is gaming operator SJM’s Managing Director, urged the government to take the lead in enforcing a complete smoking ban in all casinos. Despite this, officials were careful not to give any promise that might be regarded as interfering with the industry’s operation.
In a plenary AL session, Angela Leong fielded an verbal enquiry in which she quoted casino employees as saying that after the partial smoking ban was enforced in casinos, a change made at the beginning of this year, air quality had deteriorated inside the gaming venues instead of improving as the measure intended.
“I’m speaking as a lawmaker and not as casino manager today,” she said, “The government should take the initiative in trying to bring about a complete smoking ban. This is due to considerations of fairness because casinos otherwise would not make a move.” The lawmaker also raised the issue in a previous AL session, which was widely welcomed by casino workers but some of them suspected that her comments were prompted by the  elections since no follow-up action was taken.
The oral enquiry triggered much debate among lawmakers yesterday. Ng Kuok Cheong said that if the government would gather all casino operators together to negotiate the ban, this would be more useful in helping the companies fulfill their social responsibility by creating a clean gaming environment. “The government has responsibility to take the lead in this issue,” he said.
“I can understand Angela Leong’s emphasis on the need for the government to take the lead,” said Paul Chan Wai Chi, “because all six casino operators are listed companies and don’t know how to move on their own (in relation to legal and regulatory issues).”
The lawmakers urged the authority to conduct a preliminary review of the results of the partial smoking ban started in January, instead of waiting until 2015 as scheduled.  
But government officials present at the assembly were careful in their response. Leong Man Ion, Deputy Director of Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, only allowed that the authority had discussed smoking control with the casinos, and that they have been keeping lines of communication open between casinos and the Health Bureau in relation to smoking control. “For various suggestions raised by lawmakers today, including the establishment of smoking rooms to replace the current smoking areas, I think we should have a legal basis to follow.” “We need more time to negotiate with casinos on the air cleaning facilities and measures towards the separation of the smoking zones from the non-smoking ones,” he added. Lei Chin Ion, Director of the Health Bureau, stressed that casinos can opt not to apply for smoking areas, or to abolish their smoking areas already approved by the authority.
In response to several legislators’ concerns over casino workers’ complaints that casinos are concentrating their popular games in smoking areas, the officials promised to conduct inspections and punish operators violating the rules. Lei said 145 inspections had been conducted in the period between 1st January and 19th February, with 118 penalties being filed against casinos. Lei chose not to disclose the companies’ names.  He said 40 more inspectors would be employed to reinforce the regulations.
They also promised to conduct air quality checks in casinos to ensure that required standards are met. But they admitted that the separation of smoking and non-smoking zones is not easy and for some old casinos this might mean a complete closure if a complete separation is required of them, because of their limited areas and less advanced ventilation systems. The officials promised to release air quality results after finishing all checks in the casinos that have applied for a smoking area.

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