The Legislative Assembly (AL) has finally passed the government initiated Tobacco Prevention and Control Law’s amendment bill, which allows casinos to set up smoking lounges in gaming areas in line with the standards set by the government. The bill is slated to take effect on January 1 next year.
The bill was passed during a plenary session on Friday.
According to the Macau Post Daily, the amendments state that smoking lounges with the officially required standards will have to be set up within a year of the law coming into force.
The current smoking lounges and smoking areas can remain during the one-year interim period, before the new smoking lounges are fully operational.
Since October 2014, smoking has been banned in casinos’ mass-market areas, although smoking lounges with separate ventilation systems are permitted, while high-rollers are still allowed to smoke in designated smoking areas in VIP rooms.
The outline of the bill was passed by a plenum in July 2015.
The original version of the bill proposed a blanket smoking ban on all casino premises.
During a meeting of the 10-member committee in May last year, seven of the nine committee members who attended the meeting supported the continuation of smoking lounges in casinos, provided that the lounges meet certain standards, such as that the smoke will not affect those outside.
In February, the city’s six gaming operators co-hosted a press conference to announce the findings of a study on casino smoking lounges, with the aim of persuading the government to allow them to set up smoking lounges in all gaming areas.
The findings of the study, conducted by the public University of Macau (UM), show that 60 percent of casino workers, asked in the survey late last year, preferred the retention of smoking lounges over a full smoking ban.
Two days after the gaming operators announced the findings, the Health Bureau (SSM) held a press conference to announce the officially required “high standards” for casino smoking lounges.
Since then, the government has repeatedly insisted that it has not come under pressure by the city’s gaming operators to not push for the originally planned implementation of a blanket smoking ban in all gaming areas.
Addressing Friday’s plenum, Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tarn Chon Weng reaffirmed that the government’s aim is to impose ultimately a blanket smoking ban on all public indoor areas, adding that it would, however, be a long process to achieve it.
Tam said that the setting-up of smoking lounges with the officially required “high standards” can protect casino workers from smoke, adding that casinos in some foreign countries such as South Korea, Singapore and the United States are not required to set up smoking lounges with such “high standards”.
During the article-by-artick vote, 24 lawmakers voted in favour of the article which allow; the setting-up of smoking lounges in gaming areas, while eight law-makers voted against it. The Iegislature has 33 members.
Lawmakers-cum-unionists Jose Pereira Coutinho and Leong Veng Chai, who voted against the article, said that no smoking lounge can ensure that those outside will not be affected by the smoke.
Lawmakers-cum-unionists Kwan Tsui Hang, Ella Lei Cheng and Lam Heong Sang, all of them key members of the Macau Federation of Trade Unions who also voted against this article, urged the government to implement a blanket smoking ban in all gaming areas.
Grassroots lawmaker Ng Kuok Cheong, who also voted against the article, criticised the government for changing its original plan of imposing a blanket casino smoking ban.
The new law bans the sale of e-cigarettes in Macau.