Last October, Hong Kong’s chief executive promised a total ban on e-cigarettes, and now a bill has been introduced to do just that. The proposed law will have its first reading in the Legislative Council on Feb. 20.
If passed into law, the bill will ban sales, manufacture, importation, distribution, or promotion of vapor products and heat-not-burn (HNB) tobacco products in Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post. A conviction for any of these crimes could result in up to six months in jail and a fine of 50,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $6,370 U.S.). The stated purpose of the ban is to prevent youth use leading to uptake of combustible products.
“We hope these alternative products won’t be so easily accessible in the market before they get really popular,” Deputy Secretary for Food and Health Amy Yuen Wai-yin told the Post. “We worry that young people, who may not be users of conventional tobacco at the moment, will be attracted by the cool-looking alternative products and become smokers through vaping. We want to nip the problem in the bud.”
The proposed law does not criminalize possession for personal use, although vaping in a non-smoking area could be punished by fines of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($637 U.S.). According to the Post, police and other officials will have more power to crack down on offenders of the new law than they do on combustible tobacco. Cigarettes and other combustible products will remain legal to buy and sell.
A Food and Health ministry official told the Post that visitors to the popular tourist city would be expected to voluntarily discard vaping products before passing through customs. Officials are concerned that importation for personal use might somehow lead to sales in Hong Kong.
“Our principle is that no one should be allowed to bring in any of the alternative smoking products, because they are likely to say it’s for their own use, and we won’t be able to keep track of it after they come into Hong Kong,” Yuen told the Post. “We don’t want a black market to come out of such a loophole.”
Hong Kong is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. With 7.4 million people living in an area of about 400 square miles, it is one of the most densely populated places on earth, but has a high standard of living. As a “special administrative region” of China, Hong Kong has its own political system, laws and currency. Macau, another nearby state that operates as a special administrative region, is also considering a total ban on vapes.
Hong Kong lies just a few miles south of the vaping production capitol of the world, Shenzhen, China. Many of the vaping products produced in Shenzhen are transported through the massive shipping facilities in Hong Kong. It remains unclear how Hong Kong authorities will treat products being shipped from mainland Chinese manufacturers to Europe and North America through ports in Hong Kong.
China itself has no restrictions of sales or use of vapor products, but regulators began studying the issue last year. The huge country has more than 300 million smokers, and its state-owned China National Tobacco Company is the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer.