The Office of The Ombudsman announced the direct investigation report on “The Mechanism of the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) and the Department of Health (DH) for Handling Smoking Offences” on 1 February 2018. Inadequacies and recommendations for improvement are listed in the report.

According to the report, Tobacco Control Office (TCO) of DH has an establishment of 89 law enforcement officer to handle about 20,000 complaints and conduct nearly 30,000 inspections every year. The number of enforcement staff is not enough to meet the enormous number of complaints, and causes insufficient inspections at night and in public holidays. According to the information of FHB and DH, during the course of investigation TCO has already deployed additional staff specializing in surprise inspection at night. For more effective enforcement, the Ombudsman also recommended TCO to enhance enforcement actions by plain-clothes officers, setting priorities for different locations, and review the arrangement of evidence provision, etc.

Apart from TCO, various Government departments are also the statutory authorities for the enforcement within the venues under their management, such as Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Housing Department. However, the report found that the numbers of prosecution carried out by these department are low. It advised FHB to establish an effective mechanism for co-ordinating tobacco control measures of different departments and place more resources to combat illegal smoking.

The report also pointed out that there was no penalty in Hong Kong for the venue managers who fail to comply with tobacco control provisions. Many countries, such as the UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and cities in the mainland China, stipulated the related penalties in their smoke-free legislation. 

Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health has been advocating the Government to amend the smoke-free legislation and impose legal onus to venue managers on the smoking offences inside their premises. The Government should take the Ombudsman’s advice to promptly review legislation and allocate more resources for prosecution and smoke-free education and publicity.

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