Executive Council spokesman Leong Heng Teng said on Tuesday that the government had decided to further tighten its tobacco control measures, including the prohibition of the sale of e-cigarettes and a blanket ban on smoking in casinos.
Leong made the announcement during a press conference at Government Headquarters.
Leong said the Executive Council had completed a proposed amendment to the Tobacco Prevention and Control Law, based on a report by the Health Bureau (SSM).
The government proposed four amendments to the law, Leong said, one of which is banning the sale of e-cigarettes in Macau. Moreover, e-cigarettes would be treated the same as cigarettes, so people would be forbidden to smoke either type of cigarette in public places where a smoking ban is in place.
A SSM statement said that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are an effective way to help people quit smoking. According to the WHO, vapour from an e-cigarette is harmful for people. The SSM statement also said the bureau believed that e-cigarettes could be the first step for young people to become smokers, so it proposed that e-cigarettes be treated the same as conventional cigarettes.
Leong said that according to the amendment bill travellers could bring e-cigarettes in from outside Macau, but only for personal use, and smoke them anywhere where smoking is allowed.
The government also decided to extend the areas where the smoking ban will be enforced, such as a blanket smoking ban in all casino premises and tertiary education institutions, as well as bus terminals and bus stops, Leong said.
Leong said as people tend to gather near bus stops, the government proposed that people would not be allowed to smoke within 10 metres of bus terminals and bus stops, out of concern for public health.
Responding to concerns that a blanket ban on smoking in casinos would have a negative effect on the local economy, SSM Director Lei Chin Ion said at the same press conference that the concerns were just speculation. He insisted that there are many other factors which affect the gaming industry’s revenue. He added that the medical cost of treating health problems caused by smoking far exceeded the revenue earned by the gaming industry.
Leong said the proposed amendments also mandate that shops must not display any packets of cigarettes on their shelves. While they can still sell cigarettes, they could only show the names and the prices of the brands of cigarettes they carry, similar to a fast-food menu.
The government also proposed an increase in the penalty for violators, Leong said, from the previous fine of 400 to 10,000 patacas to 1,500 to 20,000 patacas. He said the penalty for smoking in prohibited areas would be 1,500 patacas, and 20,000 patacas for the selling of tobacco to people under the age of 18.
Leong also said that a tobacco tax hike and a lower limit on the amount of tobacco products that travellers can bring in would be included in another amendment bill.
The amendment bill presented on Tuesday will be submitted to the legislature for debate and vote. Leong said he could not comment on whether lawmakers will pass the bill.
While the gaming industry is opposing a blanket ban on smoking in casinos, some gaming worker unions have welcomed the possible ban.
Currently, smoking is still allowed in casinos’ VIP rooms, apart from airport-style smoking lounges in mass-market gaming halls.
Bloomberg on Tuesday quoted Deutsch Bank analyst Karen Tang as saying that a full casino smoking ban “should hurt VIP revenue.”
According to Tang, high-stakes gamblers would look to reduce their trips to Macau by 17 percent and cut their length of stay after the ban in implemented, citing a KPMG report commissioned by the city’s six gaming operators. (macaunews/macaupost)