The working committee of Macau’s Legislative Assembly asked to examine the revised tobacco control bill “may take about a year” to finish its report, legislator Chan Chak Mo said on Wednesday. He also announced a 60-day public consultation process.
Mr Chan presides over the second committee of the territory’s assembly. It is currently analysing the bill that proposes banning completely any smoking inside the city’s casinos.
The revised tobacco control bill includes provisions to outlaw smoking lounges on casino mass floors as well as smoking in VIP rooms. It also bans the sale of tobacco-related products in casinos. Legislators approved the first reading of the bill on July 10.
Speaking to reporters after a committee meeting on Wednesday, Mr Chan said that “it is very hard” to say exactly when the report will be finished.
“It will depend on the amount of opinions we collect, the number of meetings we have with different associations or groups and the discussion with the government,” Mr Chan said. “It can take about a year to finish our report,” he added.
Only after the committee has issued a report on the bill will the document return to the full assembly for its second and final reading.
The government-proposed bill does not include an enactment date, but Macau officials have been quoted saying they expect the legislation to be implemented early next year. Mr Chan admitted that there is some urgency to complete discussion of the bill, but warned: “It all depends on the committee’s workload.”
As a rule, the city’s legislature starts its two-month summer recess on August 16.
In Wednesday’s meeting, members of the committee agreed to launch a two-month-long public consultation, from August 1 to September 30. “We will be open to listen to any opinion, which can be submitted to our committee by letter or email,” Mr Chan said.
The committee would also be inviting several interested groups to share their views about the impact of the smoking bill, the legislator stated. They include associations representing the city’s gaming concessionaires, junket operators and casino workers, he added.
“Legislators are worried about the impact the bill could have on different sectors of the economy, as well as on the government’s revenue. For that reason, we want to listen to what the different industries have to say about it,” Mr Chan stated.
Some legislators have urged the government to re-examine its stated objective of scrapping existing smoking lounges in casinos and preventing any new ones being built. It is likely to be a topic of discussion during the committee stage of the bill.
Casino gross gaming revenue in Macau has fallen for 13 consecutive months when judged year-on-year, and contracted by 37 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2015. Investment analysts have said removing mass floor smoking lounges could shave 10 percent from mass market gaming revenue, and a VIP room smoking ban as much as 15 percent from VIP revenue.
Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam Chon Weng, who oversees smoking control policies, has said that to allow the retention of smoking lounges inside casinos would not allow for a proper control of secondhand smoke. Mr Tam added however that the government would be “open to suggestions from all parties”.
Legislator Chan admitted that the members of the committee were divided not only on the casino smoking lounges issue, but also on other provisions of the revised bill, such as the increase in fines for those smoking in prohibited areas.
“During the committee meetings we [legislators] can suggest changes, but it will be up to the government to decide if it wants to accept those opinions. It’s always a political decision, but the final word lies with the plenary [full] meeting of the assembly at the time of the second reading,” Mr Chan said.
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Chief executive of privately-held VIP junket business Suncity Group