Kapok | Smoking gun

Eric Sautedé

Is it me or are we being treated worse than headless chickens with tar-filled lungs? An opinion survey on to smoke or not to smoke in casinos conducted by the University of Macau and commissioned by the six casino licensees? An appended study on the law-compliant quality of the air surrounding “smoking lounges” performed by an offshoot of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University? To show what exactly? That “87% of employees working in gaming areas recognise the significant improvement of air quality in their work environment” and “60% of employees surveyed support solutions that allow smoking lounges”. And this is supposed to be convincing beyond reasonable doubt and pave the way for expensive and state-of-the-art ventilation systems? This is supposed to be the result of an “independent” enquiry when it bluntly contradicts the government-sponsored survey released in January 2015 that indicated that 74% of the population was in favour of a full ban?

At the time, Secretary for Social Affairs, Alexis Tam did not mince his words: “The Macao government has made a decision and it’s unanimous: [we are calling for] the implementation of a full smoking ban in casinos. The government will not be harming citizens, casino employees and tourists’ health.” He made it clear that he would not bow to pressure because “even with ventilation systems, this could still trigger negative health effects.” One of the licensees with the oldest installations had failed repeatedly the health bureau tests regarding air-quality standards and another licensee had just been fined MOP100,000 for pushing a bit too far the cat and mouse game all of them had been playing with the new regulations.

The two studies are far more independent than the KPMG report of 2015, also commissioned by the gaming operators, that was part of a robust and systematic campaign to twist arms in favour of what had been conceived as the “only” viable solution: the smoking lounges. Even pro-business legislators of the Legislative Assembly Second Committee in charge of examining the amended law had been “shocked” to find the report of KPMG — a global accountancy firm with a longstanding relationship with the tobacco industry — on their desk before even starting their work! But soon, these legislators started to play the “delay” game that had bought them 16 months before the initial passing of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Law in 2011. Introduced in July 2015, the revised version paving the way for a full ban is still under discussion, and the initial resolve is now gone in smoke, despite the secretary and even the Chief Executive boasting to the contrary.

In 2007, a World Health Organisation report concluded that “ventilation and smoking areas, whether separately ventilated from non-smoking areas or not, do not reduce exposure to a safe level of risk and are not recommended” and in another brochure, the WHO described how “the tobacco industry and its allies [would] challenge the science on the health effects of second-hand tobacco smoke exposure and propose that designated smoking areas and ventilation are acceptable alternatives.” It then stressed that the same ones would “claim that smoke-free laws are a violation of so-called ‘smokers rights’, or are simply not necessary, not feasible, not enforceable and will have a negative impact on business (particularly restaurants, bars and casinos). These claims are unproven and should not be factored into policy-making decisions.”

It is thus rather ironic to have Mr Ambrose So, Chairman of SJM, introducing the results of these surveys on behalf of the six gaming operators, given that it was mainly his casinos that had failed the tests in 2013-2014 and that he had suggested SJM facilities should be exempted from the smoking ban altogether. And although this was not stressed in the press release he introduced, 60% of those sampled are still in favour of a total ban if it was to be implemented: facts are stubborn!

By the way, for those whose brain has been fried by cigar fumes: tobacco smoke produces 10 times more fine particulate matter than diesel exhaust! And I am not even counting the chemicals…

Categories Opinion