In Macau, the government has reportedly rejected allegations that it intends to bow to pressure from casino operators and keep smoker-friendly lounges while revealing that it has yet to come to a final decision regarding its future policy on the smoking of tobacco in the city’s over 30 gambling establishments.

According to a report from local television and radio broadcaster Teledifusao De Macau, the rebuff from Fernando Chui Sai On, Chief Executive for the former Portuguese enclave, comes as the Tobacco Control Office considers new standards for the airport-style smoking lounges recently proposed by the city’s six licensed casino operators including giants SJM Holdings Limited, Galaxy Entertainment Group and Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

“I don’t think [the Tobacco Control Office] has come to present a final plan to me yet at this stage,” Chui told the broadcaster. “There have been many opinions I’ve been hearing within and outside the government but of course we will integrate all opinions and our priorities are the interests of our residents and we will not “kneel down” to any specific sector as this is our responsibility.”

Chui reportedly told Teledifusao De Macau that the city’s Tobacco Control Office is still analyzing the gambling operators’ proposals, which include higher standards for existing mass-market smoking lounges, and that he was unable to give any sort of timetable as to when or if a full casino smoking ban would be implemented.

However, critics have reportedly accused Chui of back-tracking as the 60-year-old had earlier advocated a total smoking ban in the enclave’s casinos at the same time as promising to implement a “zero tolerance” policy against offenders.

“I think that the government has failed in its promise and has given in to pressure from gaming operators,” Chloe Chao from the New Macau Gaming Workers Rights Association told the broadcaster.

A body that represents gambling industry workers in the city, the New Macau Gaming Workers Rights Association reportedly explained that it recently conducted a survey of 1,900 casino employees and found that some 90% were against keeping the current smoking lounges. To further make its point, it delivered a petition to the government on Tuesday asking that second-hand tobacco smoke be listed as a workplace hazard and urged the government to pursue a total ban on the smoking of tobacco in casinos.

The body was also reportedly upset that Alexis Tam Chong Veng, Social Affairs And Culture Secretary for Macau, had allegedly defended the operator’s proposals, which would maintain the current mass-market smoking lounges while moreover implementing these facilities in currently smoker-friendly VIP areas.

“I personally think that what Macau has done so far does not deviate from the efforts of the World Health Organization or the countries and regions that are signatories of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention On Tobacco Control,” Tam told Teledifusao De Macau. “If [the casino operators] meet the high standards provided by the Health Bureau, then I believe that they will be protecting the well-being of their workers. They will also make the enforcement of the law by officials in the Tobacco Control Office easier. I am certain of this.”

The broadcaster reported that the New Macau Gaming Workers Rights Association survey was conducted in reaction to an industry-funded earlier investigation that purportedly found that some 60% of casino employees favored allowing gamblers to enjoy tobacco in at least some interior areas. Conducted by Desmond Lam, an associate professor of hospitality and gaming management at the University Of Macau, and called Research Findings On Smoking Lounges In Macau Casinos, this study polled around 14,300 workers and moreover asserted that 87% of gaming floor staff felt that air quality in their work environment had improved since operators began the implementation of more stringent smoking measures.

“I think that [Tam] should not have made remarks insinuating that sacrifices have to be made in favor of getting economic benefits,” Chao told Teledifusao De Macau.