Hong Kong welcomed a near-blanket ban on smoking on Monday, although not all residents in the Chinese territory were happy about losing their right to light up in public. The former British colony joins Singapore as the latest city in Asia to ban smoking in most public places.
The ban - effective January 1 - prohibits lighting up in restaurants, workplaces, schools, karaoke lounges and public areas. Even smoking outdoors, at public beaches, swimming pools, sports grounds, museums and most areas in public parks is forbidden. A smoker for over 30 years, Boris Cheung said the ban meant he was no longer able to enjoy his daily coffee and cigarette ritual.
"I usually have a puff or two while enjoying my coffee in a Chachangteng," a small, Chinese style cafe, Cheung, said, while lighting his cigarette on the street outside the restaurant. "Now I have to finish this here before I go inside." Cheung also criticized the government for not putting forward a coherent strategy to combat smoking.
"People are allowed to buy cigarettes, but are restricted to light up. What kind of policy is that?" he asked. French tourist Fabieen Ricci, a nonsmoker, did not know about the new ban, but said he thought it was a good measure. He said smoke-free eateries were becoming a worldwide trend as France will also ban smoking in restaurants, clubs, bars and cafes on January 1, 2008.
"I don't like people smoking next to me when I'm eating. It's better to have cleaner air," he said.
Connie Hong, a waitress at a Chinese-restaurant in downtown Wan Chai where smoking used to be allowed, said she and her colleagues started putting up "no-smoking" signs and throwing away ashtrays on New Year's Eve.
Hong said her customers were generally cooperative after the ban kicked in.
"Many of them came a little drunk after partying last night, but most of them put out their butts when we asked them not to smoke," she said.
"A few of them ignored us at first, but they did not light up a second one."
Anyone caught breaking the new anti-smoking law will be subject to a maximum penalty of HK$5,000 (US$644; euro488). The latest government figures showed about 840,000 people aged 15 or above, of Hong Kong's seven-million population, were smokers.
The ban does not yet include nightclubs, bars open to those aged 18 or above, mahjong parlors, bathhouses and massage establishments such venues have until July 1, 2009, to implement the law.