Hundreds of bus staff illegally smoke in no-smoking public transport interchanges despite many warnings and a pledge from bus firms to resolve the problem, a Transit Jam investigation has found.
A survey of six of the 42 outdoor no-smoking bus stations revealed 100% illegal smoking incidence by bus staff and captains, with KMB staff having set up permanent smoking areas within the no-smoking zone at several stations.
The stations surveyed ranged from the very first to be designated “no smoking”, in 2010 – Chuk Yuen Estate in Wong Tai Sin – to the most recently designated, in December 2022, Man Kat Street in Sheung Wan.
At Chuk Yuen Street and Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan, KMB staff have set up chairs and ashtrays and staff are regularly seen smoking while on duty.
At Mong Kok East, staff smoke in the portable toilets set up next to the bus lanes, while at Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui, Man Kut Street and On Tai Street, staff hide behind booths to light up.
KMB, which had the most offenders spotted, refused to answer questions on the smoking problem but issued a statement claiming they would take “appropriate disciplinary action against staff who is [sic] found smoking in the non-smoking area”.
Barely a week after that statement, crew at three hotspots were found smoking in the usual locations, often with bus supervisors sitting only yards away or even joining in.
Judith Mackay, a long-standing tobacco campaigner honoured among Time magazine’s 100 World’s Most Influential People for her work in tobacco control, told Transit Jam there were difficulties “policing smoke-free areas anywhere in the world” but pointed to a document she co-authored with former health minister Sophia Chan that identified reduction in the Hong Kong public’s exposure to secondhand smoke as the government’s priority strategy for smoking hazard reduction.
A thematic survey by the Census and Statistics Department in 2022 found over five million people aged 15 and over had been exposed to second-hand smoke in outdoor public areas during the seven days before the survey.
The most commonly cited place of exposure to second-hand smoke was “pedestrian walkways” (94.5%), followed by “outside building / premise entrances” (55.7%) and “open-air bus/minibus/taxi stops and the areas for queuing up nearby” (39.8%).
While smokers may often believe smoking outdoors reduces secondhand smoke hazards, studies show outdoor locations with a number of smokers lead to exposure levels considered unhealthy for sensitive groups and peak exposure levels that are considered very hazardous for everyone. According to studies by the California Air Resources Board, outdoor secondhand smoke can be comparable to indoor levels where smokers gather.
And measurements in a 2018 air quality project supported by Clean Air Network found PM2.5 exposure to be up to 10 times the baseline in outdoor smoking areas around major Hong Kong buildings: the PM2.5 measurements were well above World Health Organisation safe limits in those smoking areas.
Over two-thirds of people in Hong Kong polled by the government, including smokers, supported the expansion of no-smoking areas to transport waiting areas and places for “queuing up”.
But at a tobacco “End Game” event last year, Henry Tong Sau-chai, the chairman of the Council on Smoking and Health, warned of a huge mismatch between government revenue from smoking and spending on tobacco control and enforcement.
“There’s a big difference in what the government collects in tobacco tax and how much they spend on helping people quit smoking,” he told Transit Jam.
The government’s Tobacco and Alcohol Control Office did not respond to questions on the issue of bus station smoking.