Hong Kong is planning a ban on e-cigarettes, citing supposed health concerns. A June 3 article in the South China Morning Post says a bill banning import and sale of vapor products will be introduced during the next legislative session. This comes after bizarre stories of an unpublished study that showed impossible quantities of lung-damaging constituents in e-cig vapor.
Ironically, Hong Kong borders the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, which is essentially the vapor products capital of the world. Production facilities for most major Chinese vaping manufacturers — including Joyetech, Kangertech, Innokin and Aspire — lie just miles away. And the famous online retailer Fasttech is in Hong Kong.
The news of the proposed ban follows an announcement in January from Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying that the government would consider such a move, according to the Post story. Then in February came news of a “study” from Hong Kong’s Baptist University that claimed to show that e-cigs contain “one million times more cancer-causing substances than outdoor air.” That story, though quickly debunked by Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos and others, was probably intended to provide justification for the coming ban.
“There are only two possibilities, wrote Dr. Farsalinos, “either the scientists have no idea about what they are talking about, or they are deliberately misinforming the public and the regulators. Even worse, they are creating panic to vapers (the vast majority of whom are former smokers), with the risk of making them relapse to smoking. This is a typical case of gross misinformation and extremely poor science. Literally, a public health disgrace. The reporters of this “study” (not authors, because there is no published study) need to immediately apologize to the public for creating this story out of nothing.”
“A highly misleading reading of the evidence”
The fact that no actual study was publicly presented makes it suspicious. That the supposed study was commissioned by a notoriously anti-vaping local “health group” — the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health — makes it very suspicious.
But never underestimate the power of “a study” to convince uninformed people to grab pitchforks and torches.
There was anti-vaping legislation proposed in Hong Kong last year too, and the same group was was instrumental in that attempt. According to Clive Bates, who wrote about last year’s effort to restrict e-cigs, “the Hong Kong Council on Smoking & Health (COSH) has been feeding the government a highly misleading reading of the evidence through its e-cigarette position statement and has been campaigning to have e-cigarettes banned – why it thinks this is good for health rather than protective of cigarette sales is anyone’s guess.”
Bates and Prof. Gerry Stimson offered testimony to the Hong Kong Panel on Health Services hearing last year. “It is clear that the leading edge in tobacco control is not in prohibition of these products,” they wrote, “but in working out how best to exploit the huge opportunities while minimising any residual threats. In other words, tobacco control leadership means skillful design of regulation based on sound science, not ideology.”
The fix is in
Ideology is the word. Perhaps pressure from outside experts can prevent disaster in Hong Kong this year, but don’t be overly optimistic. When you consider the announcement of the “study” along with the general level of discourse in the South China Morning Post on the topic, you could be forgiven for assuming that the fix is in.
In the article about the coming ban, reporter Elizabeth Cheung writes, “E-cigarettes can be purchased easily by primary and secondary school students in local shopping malls. A six-year-old girl was once spotted by the local media in Sham Shui Po inhaling a fruit-flavoured e-cigarette like an experienced smoker.”
Is that sort of claim supposed to be taken seriously by readers? It’s nothing but a baseless anecdote included to whip up fear among ignorant readers. And it just might work. There are a number of important countries — including Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan and Turkey — that have banned vaping with less justification. Will Hong Kong be next?