Poker machine smoking ban ignored - Thursday 12th of May 2005

THE Bracks Government has failed to enforce its anti-smoking laws in poker machine venues. Almost three years after trumpeting reforms to control passive smoking, the Government admitted many pokies pubs and clubs had ignored repeated warnings to clean up their act. A recent Herald Sun survey discovered many venues had made little more than token efforts to provide enclosed smoking areas.

Several venues had designated smoking areas less than a metre from poker machines, with no physical barrier to control the spread of smoke. Other pubs provided waist-high barriers, which were clearly ineffective in containing smoke in designated areas. In some venues the smell of smoke spread through entire gaming rooms. A spokesman for State Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said despite repeated warnings and visits by inspectors, some venues were continuing to expose gamblers to passive cigarette smoke.

"It still appears that gaming venues are not acting in the spirit of legislation, despite repeated warnings," the spokesman said. Smoking will be banned in pokies venues from mid-2007, but until then, pokies pubs and clubs are required to provide "substantially enclosed" smoking areas. But the refusal of venues to comply with the law could see the Government tighten planned tobacco reforms which could be made into law within months. "In terms of overall legislation, these matters are being examined as part of upcoming changes to smoking laws," the government spokesman said. Interchurch Gambling Taskforce spokesman Mark Zirnsak said pokies venues were acting with arrogant disregard for their customers.

"This is a further demonstration that many venues have a lack of concerns for their patrons and staff," Mr Zirnsak said. "They're willing to play to the letter of the law but not look after the health of those in the venues . . . (they're) making a mockery of existing smoking laws." This week's state Budget showed reduced gaming levels from smoking restrictions had bottomed-out, with taxation revenue from pokies losses once again on the rise. The Government expects to reap an extra $43 million in taxes on gambling losses next financial year. A total smoking ban after 2007 is expected to see pokies revenue fall dramatically for 12 months.

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