The Hong Kong Legislative Council has dropped plans for a total vaping product ban—at least for now. Vaping and harm reduction advocates have been fighting the proposed ban since it was announced more than 19 months ago in a speech by Hong Kong’s chief executive.
The Bills Committee on Smoking of the Legislative Council ended discussions over the bill to ban e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs, also known as heat-not-burn products) last week. The committee had been working on the bill since March 2019, holding six meetings and three public hearings, according to the Manila Standard.
Some Legislative Council members on the committee strongly opposed the ban, citing the injustice of denying low-risk nicotine products to people who smoke. “Legislators such as Peter Shui, Raymond Chan and Cheng Chunt-tai, have repeatedly argued that a ban was neither logical nor feasible,” said Nancy Loucas, executive coordinator of Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates, a regional consumer advocacy organization.
The head of the Hong Kong Tobacco and Alcohol Control Office, Dr. Fung Ying, told the South China Morning Post that the government would introduce another bill to ban vapes in the next legislative session. “At the present stage, our most urgent task is public education about the risks of heated tobacco products and to guard against the misleading claim that they bring a lower risk and observe the trend,” Fung told the paper.
The original bill would have banned the sales, manufacture, importation, distribution, or promotion of vapor and HTP products, and set penalties of up to six months in jail and a fine of 50,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $6,370 U.S.) for violators. The government even planned to seize products brought into Hong Kong by tourists.
As we reported last year, law enforcement agencies would be given more power to crack down on offenders under the vaping ban than they have for violators of the laws on public smoking. The bill did not include any restrictions on sales or importation of cigarettes.
The New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) estimated last year that 35,000 vaping Britons visit Hong Kong annually. The British advocacy group urged U.K. tourists who vape to think twice before traveling to Hong Kong if the ban is passed.
Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. It has a population of 7.4 million people living in an area of about 400 square miles, and a high standard of living. Hong Kong lies just south of Shenzhen, China, where most vaping products sold around the world are manufactured. Many products produced in Shenzhen are transported through the massive shipping facilities in Hong Kong.
China took possession of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, promising to grant the territory limited self-rule for 50 years. In recent months, China has made moves to reduce Hong Kong’s autonomy, taking steps to end the “one country, two systems” structure that was supposed to remain in force until 2047.