The Macau government announced on Monday the new technical details for smoking lounges inside Macau casinos. The information is needed by the city’s casino operators so they can comply with a new regime on smoking in public places as approved by the Legislative Assembly in July.
The new regime includes banning tableside smoking in VIP gambling areas. Operators can however apply to construct smoking lounges – free of gaming – in high-roller gambling rooms. Smoking lounges will continue to be authorised on casino mass floors.
The new technical specifications for smoking rooms were set out in a dispatch from the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam Chon Weng, published in Monday’s Official Gazette.
In Macau, the city’s gaming sector is the responsibility of the Secretary for Economy and Finance. The current secretary is Lionel Leong Vai Tac. Smoking control policies Macau-wide – including smoking inside casinos – are under Mr Tam.
According to the new guidelines, gaming tables and machines must be at least 3 metres (9.8 feet) from the entrance to any smoking lounges that are operating inside casinos. The distance can be reduced to 2 metres if there is a wall separating the smoking lounge from the rest of the casino area.
The new rules require more stringent standards for the so-called “negative pressure” mechanism in smoking lounges. It is now required that “negative pressure” in smoking lounges is set at a level more stringent than -5 pascals when doors are closed. Previously, no figure was set by the government for negative pressure inside smoking lounges.
Each smoking lounge must have a single entrance, with sliding doors and an automated system for opening and closing them. There should be an alarm system to give a warning in case smoking lounge doors are left open for more than 60 seconds or in case the negative pressure inside the room registers -5 pascals or fewer, the new rules state.
Smoking inside a smoking lounge must be suspended for at least two hours prior to it being cleaned. Cleaning staff should wear protective masks while performing duties inside such facilities, the new standards state.
Casinos with smoking lounges are also obliged to introduce measures to ensure their workers’ health is not negatively affected by tobacco smoke in the workplace, according to the gazetted information. Mr Tam’s dispatch however did not specify what such measures should be.
Another innovation introduced under the new rules is that smoking lounges must feature information about the dangers to health of smoking tobacco. These rooms should also include information on the services made available by Macau’s Health Bureau to help people give up smoking. No advertising of tobacco-related products is to be allowed inside smoking lounges.
The Health Bureau will be the body responsible for authorising and overseeing smoking lounges in casinos, the new rules state.
In 2014, the government ordered casino main floors be smoke free with effect from October 6 that year. Two years later, some operators were still awaiting approval for gaming-free smoking lounges in mass-market gambling areas.
As already required by the current rules, smoking lounges must be physically separated from the surrounding gaming area and have independent air extraction systems.
Under the city’s newly-amended Regime on Tobacco Prevention and Control, which will come into effect in January 1, 2018, Macau casinos will be given one year to install smoking lounges free of gaming in their VIP areas. All smoking lounges in casinos – including the existing ones set up on mass floors since the ban on free-for-all casino smoking – will also have to conform to the enhanced technical standards by January 1, 2019.
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"The [Macau] government has a lead in this subject in regards to what should be done after the [gaming] concessions expire. We will be first listening to what the government will say”
Ambrose So Shu Fai
Vice-chairman and chief executive at Macau casino operator SJM Holdings