After indicating that it would regulate but not prohibit vaping products, the government of Hong Kong has decided instead to institute a full ban on their sales, manufacture and import. The ban will also cover heat-not-burn tobacco products (HNB).
There is no proposal to ban cigarettes, which produce massive tax revenue for the government.
According to a report from the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will announce the ban in her policy address today. The speech will introduce many new government initiatives along with the vaping ban.
After threatening a ban last year, the government announced this June that it would not ban, but instead regulate e-cigarettes and HNB as it does combustible tobacco.The plan at that time was to institute a ban on sales to minors, advertising restrictions, and taxes on products that contain tobacco (HNB devices heat “sticks” of tobacco).
Tobacco control activists at the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) opposed the regulation plan, instead demanding either a complete ban or taxes so high the products would be as difficult to obtain as cigarettes. “If the products are available in the market, they should be taxed in the same way as tobacco,” said a June statement from COSH. “Their selling price should not be lower than cigarettes so that the public will not be attracted to using them just because they are cheap.” Cigarettes in Hong Kong cost about 57 Hong Kong dollars (about $7.30 U.S.).
A June 13 letter from COSH to the government secretary for food and health called for “a total ban on all new forms of tobacco products.” Other groups that urged the government to prohibit all vaping and HNB products were the College of Community Medicine and the Medical Association.
A letter from public health advocate Clive Bates, Canadian tobacco control expert and University of Ottawa law professor David Sweanor, and New York University professors and former Truth Initiative researchers David Abrams and Raymond Niaura to the Hong Kong chief executive, president of the Legislative Council, and secretary for Food and Health asked for reasonable regulation. They addressed the local groups’ demands for a ban directly
“We write to express concern about a campaign led by a Hong Kong-based tobacco control organisation to have e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and other low risk alternatives to smoking banned,” said the Bates letter. “We believe this campaign is ill-conceived and inconsistent with the international evidence. We are writing to urge the government to resist this pressure and to use ‘risk-proportionate’ regulation rather than prohibition to exploit the opportunities and minimise any risks associated with these new technologies.”
The letter also suggested that the Hong Kong Office of Tobacco Control had adopted the World Health Organization’s strategy of cherry picking evidence to present a negative picture of the health risks of vaping products. The tobacco control office’s information page on e-cigarettes looks like something from 2009.
“We respectfully ask by what logical, scientific or ethical argument does it make sense to ban the much safer products while leaving the highly harmful dominant product, cigarettes, widely available throughout Hong Kong?” asked the letter from Bates et al. “Why would a government prevent a smoker switching to a much lower-risk product and, in doing so, perhaps save his own life using his own initiative and at his own expense?”
If report from the Morning Post is correct, it appears the government officials have bowed to the wishes of the WHO-influenced tobacco control groups, and disregarded advice to consider the benefits of allowing low-risk products to compete with cigarettes. Smokers will not get the chance to save their own lives. They will continue to fill the government coffers though.
Hong Kong has been an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China since 1997. Before that, it had been a British colony since 1842. Hong Kong lies just a few miles south of the vaping production capitol of the world, Shenzhen, China. As a “special administrative region” of China, Hong Kong has its own political system and currency. It has a population of 7.4 million people.