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Ombudsman probes mechanism for handling smoking offences

10 March 2016

The Ombudsman, Ms Connie Lau, announced today (March 10) a direct investigation into the mechanism of the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) and the Department of Health (DH) for handling smoking offences to examine whether there are any inadequacies.


There have been media reports and public complaints lodged with the Office of The Ombudsman about the Government’s ineffectiveness in combating smoking in prohibited places, rendering the smoking ban in some no-smoking areas practically useless. As a result, the public continue to suffer from the nuisance of second-hand smoke. In a number of complaints, the DH is criticised for failing to respond quickly or deploy plain-clothes officers to conduct inspections. Some complainants are also dissatisfied that other relevant departments have failed to co-operate with the Tobacco Control Office under the DH and support its enforcement actions.


A preliminary inquiry by the Office has revealed that the FHB and the DH, which is under FHB’s policy overview, have put in place a mechanism for carrying out inspections in no-smoking areas and instituting prosecutions. They have also worked together with other statutory authorities (including the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Housing Department and the Police Force) in tobacco control. However, the violation of the smoking ban in some no-smoking areas remains serious and many locations have become persistent black spots. This situation calls into question the adequacy of the existing mechanism.


Ms Lau said, “The Government’s current tobacco control policy aims at encouraging people to quit smoking and minimising the risks caused by second-hand smoke to the public. The designation of no-smoking areas is an integral part of that policy. If the purpose of no-smoking areas is defeated by ineffective enforcement, it would mean a failure to discharge the duty of safeguarding public health and thus a disappointment to the public.”


The ambit of this direct investigation includes:


(1) whether the mechanism of the FHB and the DH for handling smoking offences is effective;


(2) how the FHB and the DH co-ordinate their efforts with other statutory authorities in tobacco control; and


(3) areas for improvement and enhancement.


The Ombudsman welcomes views from the public on the above subject. Comments in writing should reach the Office of The Ombudsman by April 14, 2016:


Address: 30/F, China Merchants Tower, Shun Tak Centre
168-200 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong
Fax: 2882 8149


Office of The Ombudsman
March 10, 2016

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