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Smoking debate ignited as Health Bureau fine MCE over smoking ban breach

Macau’s Health Bureau (SSM) has fined local casino operator Melco Crown Entertainment for having a smoking zone in the mass gambling area of City of Dreams, triggering fresh debate in the media over smoking in casinos.

The Bureau said in a statement that given there were no ‘no smoking’ signs, being placed in the casino area as stipulated by law, the maximum penalty was imposed as a fine of MOP100,000.

The bureau’s officials reiterated the bureau’s request at the scene to the casino. But the bureau said that the City of Dreams representative claimed that they “would not actively carry out the (instruction)”. As a result the Tobacco Control Office staff placed the signs in the casino.

The Bureau’s policy triggered fresh debate in the media over smoking in the casinos.

Since October 6, 2014, the Macau Government expanded a smoking ban to casino main floors. Smoking is only allowed in VIP rooms and enclosed airport-style smoking rooms where there are no gaming tables or slot machines.

Analysts raised concerns the policy may affect gaming operators’ revenue  already in decline due to Beijing’s anti-graft campaign.

Banking house, Barclays said, “the negative impact from a stricter smoking ban is now highly likely to be more than we previously expected.”

There seems to be evidence that Macau casinos are suffering from the non-smoking policy. Macau casino revenue fell sharply in December 2014 for a seventh straight month and marking the biggest drop since records began in 2002.

But in Hong Kong a ban on public smoking in 2006 faced overwhelming opposition from the catering trade. But the results were positive, reports said.

The Hong Kong government stated that restaurant receipts surged by around 30 per cent after the smoking ban had taken effect for around two years, and employment had also risen in the hospitality industry.

Recent reports by the School of Public Health and Department of Community Medicine of the University of Hong Kong said an Amendment Ordinance made an important contribution to the protection of many catering workers in their workplace.

Levels of tobacco chemicals in smoke-free restaurants were reduced by up to 90 per cent compared to the pre-ordinance period. This helps to reduce the harm of second-hand smoke, thereby improving the community health and reducing the medical expenditure of the government.

In Macau, says the report, the majority of gamblers come from mainland China - the world’s largest nation of smokers.

Macau, the report said, relies too much on one source of visitors – mainland gamblers. Beijing has urged Macau to come up with concrete plans to diversify its economy.

“It is time for Macau to transform itself with responsible gaming and environmental initiatives and gain the potential to be a world tourism and leisure destination, competing with other Asian countries such as Singapore,” an editorial said.


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