Legislators on Friday voted on the Tobacco Prevention and Control Law, approving the majority of the alterations to the law, but setting aside the vote on the articles involving smoking rooms inside casinos. As yet, the date has not been fixed for the next vote, however the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam Chon Weng, during the Legislative Assembly plenary session which lasted five hours, expressed that: “today I am very happy that the majority of society supports the government’s work on the rules of the tobacco control”.
The main debate among legislators, the majority of whom appear to support the implementation of smoking rooms inside the casinos, was as to whether to only designate outdoor, open-air areas as smoking zones, instead of creating smoking rooms inside the casinos.
Primary arguments against smoking rooms involved the health of the casino workers, while those for such arrangements involved the city’s economic development.
Secretary Tam, in response to legislator enquiries, pointed out that the MSAR is part of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, but that other member-countries which are also gaming jurisdictions, don’t have rules and measures in place as comprehensive as those currently in place in the MSAR.
Secretary Tam, noting that opposing views existed, stated that: “we are in the middle. But we will work to present the best project for everyone”. Particular examples given by the Secretary of other jurisdictions with less-stringent rules included South Korea, the U.S., Australia and Singapore, for which measures such as the negative-pressure requirement currently applying to local smoking rooms in Macau, have yet to be applied.
“Macau is doing it even better [than other gaming jurisdiction members]. We investigated all the casinos outside of Macau and saw their measures, and everyone should know we’re doing a good job in controlling,” stated the Secretary, noting that “the government is doing this progressively, our final objective is that in all enclosed spaces in Macau, smoking is prohibited”.
Regarding a study on the acceptance of smoking by gaming employees, commissioned by the government and conducted by the University of Macau, the Secretary noted that: “over 14,000 [gaming] workers were consulted and, of those, 44 percent agreed with creating smoking rooms in casinos. Eleven percent agreed to maintain the current rules. That is 55 percent of the workers who accept and support the creation of smoking rooms. After going over this material, the government made the necessary adjustments,” to the smoking law proposal voted on Thursday.
What about us?
A proposal by legislator Zheng Anting for smoking rooms to also be set up in the rest areas of casino employees sparked open laughter in the plenary session, however was supported by legislator, and managing director of local gaming group Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM), Angela Leong On Kei.
“[Macau has] tens of thousands of [gaming] workers, and how many smoke? If you want smokers to not smoke, prohibit smoking in Macau, no sale of tobacco in Macau once and for all,” opined the legislator, stating that gaming workers, once on the premises, were not allowed to go outside.
“There are many casino workers now listening to our plenary – I will tell them that it was Secretary Alexis Tam that didn’t want this to happen, that said it’s not possible,” stated legislator Leong.
“[Legislators] Angela Leong and Zheng Anting referred to creating smoking rooms in casino worker rest areas. We [the government] don’t agree,” reposted the Secretary. “Because currently, only the casinos can have smoking rooms, the other enclosed indoor locations – including restaurants, bars, saunas – in all of these locations it’s prohibited to smoke. Therefore we do not support that the workers in the casinos have a smoking room in their rest area,” stated the Secretary. The only other two spaces in which smoking would be allowed in the territory, exist because they are enclosed spaces from which visitors are not allowed to freely go outside: the airport and the prisons, but even smoking in prison will only be allowed in outdoor spaces, according to the law alterations.
“According to our proposal, the prisons can have an internal norm, which permits those on the premises to smoke in open spaces – so they have the right to smoke, but this would be regulated by an internal mandate of the prison facility itself,” noted the Secretary.
“Macau is not a pioneer in this area, we only apply the measures in which other countries have experience and are doing a good job,” stated Secretary Tam.
Pan-democrat Au Kam San questioned whether the six gaming operators in the MSAR had been consulted as to the measures to be implemented, and also whether the regular review, to be conducted every three-years to evaluate the effects of the measures going into place, was readily accepted by the operators, given the potential need to continually update facilities.
“In the future, when the next step is made, the operators will have to invest even more. Did the government listen to the operators?” questioned the legislator. “ Will they be able to maintain their current rooms, or is it that the government is trying to satisfy the needs of the operators to assuage these needs?” demanded the legislator.
“Is it that this has to be so repetitive? Where did this political decision come from, what were the fundamentals to take this step?” asked the legislator.
Assuring that the government had consulted with gaming operators, both locally and abroad, as well as conducting public consultations, the Secretary noted that “we’ve always been open to hearing the opinions of everyone. If in the future, there are alterations, should this be for smoking rooms, it would have to have the support of the workers as well as the concessionaires, and the concessionaires have to provide statistics on the specifics of the smoking rooms”.
The president of the Legislative Assembly, Ho Iat Seng, reminded legislators at the beginning of the session that if any alterations to the current law were not approved (or approved to be revoked), unless mandated to be later voted on individually – as is the case of the smoking rooms in casinos – the current law would remain in place.
“If our law proposal isn’t passed, the VIP rooms will continue to be affected by passive smoking,” stated the Secretary, a position echoed by a large number of legislators.