Hong Kong bar workers rally against smoking ban

Hundreds of restaurant and bar workers took to the streets here Sunday to protest against a blanket smoking ban due to be implemented in July, saying it would put many of them out of business.

In a series of demonstrations throughout the day, workers and owners of bars, nightclubs, bathhouses, massage establishments and mahjong parlours marched in driving rain to Central Government Offices to voice their concerns.

Police sources said around 200 people took part, although a spokeswoman for the Entertainment Business Rights Concern Group said more than 1,000 attended.

The indoor smoking ban is due to be fully implemented July 1 but industry workers have called for a deferment of two years to enable outlets to recover from the effects of a recession.

They also say swine flu fears triggered by Hong Kong’s seven confirmed A(H1N1) cases have hit profits.

“We want to delay the ban on smoking for two more years starting July 1,” said George Tsai, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association.

“With the bad economic situation and now swine flu, we are already suffering. Many owners fear they could go out of business if smoking is banned,” he said.

Legislative Council member Paul Tse said he supported calls for the ban to be deferred. “The current economic situation in Hong Kong is very bad and these people think they won?t survive a smoking ban on top of it,” he said.

“In Hong Kong many bars are in upper floors of tall buildings and it is very inconvenient to have to go down in an elevator to have a smoke and then come back up.”

Hong Kong banned cigarettes online buy such as schools, beaches, restaurants and karaoke bars in 2007 but the legislation was deferred for two-and-a-half years for certain establishments including bars and nightclubs.

On Sunday a spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said the government understood the entertainment outlets’ concerns but denied the ban would hit business, saying it would protect employees and guests from second-hand smoke.

“Experience of other places showed that smoking ban will not have any serious negative impact on the business of bars or entertainment establishments,” the spokesman said in a statement.

“Instead, a number of establishments have attracted guests who are non-smokers or dislike second-hand smoke after the implementation of the ban.”

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