A Minor Success Against Second-Hand Smoke

First published: 26th May 2011

I don't like smoking because of the harm it does to those around the smoker, and the unpleasantness of breathing second-hand smoke. Smokers sometimes claim that they have a "right" to enjoy this activity. OK, tobacco is a legal drug, but, if it is compared to another legal drug, alcohol, when I go for a drink, I don't forcibly pour the contents of my glass down the throats of everyone around me.

So, I'll try to avoid smokers and their smoke. What really annoys me is people smoking in No Smoking areas. After breathing a smoky atmosphere for a short time, I will feel a slight tightness in my chest, my eyes sting, and I sneeze or my nose runs. You might say that I'm overly sensitive to smoke, on the contrary, my body is reacting normally to poisons and irritants, and warning me to take care. To understand what it means to be really sensitive to smoke, read the story of Sue Meeuwissen who died from an episode of asthma and an opportunistic infection brought on by exposure to smoke from a smoker in a no smoking area.

Hong Kong has smoking control legislation and since 2007 smoking has been banned in restaurants, shops and indoor workplaces. Smoking has been banned in lifts for far longer. However, the regulations are often ignored.

Sometimes, usually late in the evening, when I get into the lift in the building where I work, I smell cigarette smoke. Occasionally, I meet someone in the lift holding a lit cigarette (usually concealed from sight, but not smell, by cupping their hand). I usually try to report these incidents, with little success. The building guards have little interest in handling the complaint; there is a camera in the passenger lift, but the image quality is poor, insufficient for identifying the offender and seeing the cigarette; the Government reporting hotline (1823) does not have a good procedure for handling these incidents; and the Tobacco Control Office takes a very long time to respond to reports.

Finally, however, I have had a success. On 15th December 2010, I entered the passenger lift and smelt smoke and found a man holding a lit cigarette. I alerted the building guards on reaching the ground floor, and asked them to take the offenders details, and contact the Government hotline. I also asked a guard to collect the discarded fag end from the lift, and keep it. Eventually, the Tobacco Control Office took my statement and proceeded with prosecution. The offender pleaded guilty and was fined HK$1500 at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts (case numbers C-10-17969 and 1-266873150).

I think that the key to the success of this case was my insisting that the building guards collect (as they are permitted to do, in such cases) the offender's name and Hong Kong ID card number. The immediate reporting of the case to the hotline, and follow-up also helped. I guess that the video record and the collected fag end would have been corroborating evidence, if the offender had chosen to plead innocent.

I have prepared a notice and I hope that the building management company will agree to display it in all the lifts, pour encourager les autres:

Warning: Smoking Can Damage Your Bank Balance

On 15th December 2010, an offender held a lit cigarrette inside the passenger lift in this building. On 17th May 2011, the offender was convicted and fined $1500 at Eastern Magistrates’ Courts (case numbers C-10-17969 & 1-266873150).

Please do not smoke in non-smoking areas.

Updated: 07th June 2011

The building management as posted the warning notice (with Chinese translation) in the ground floor lift lobby.


Warning Notice in Lift LobbyWarning Notice in Lift Lobby

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