24 August 2019
Electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products are as harmful to public health as traditional cigarettes. Photo: Reuters
Electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products are as harmful to public health as traditional cigarettes. Photo: Reuters

Say no to de facto legalization of e-cigarettes

The Food and Health Bureau has come under heavy fire from various quarters, especially the medical sector, after it proposed that the authorities would only regulate rather than ban the sale of electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products.

As early as three years ago, the government already planned to completely ban e-cigarette sales. However, the administration appears to be gradually backpedaling on the issue.

Some members of the health sector have referred to the government’s latest stance as a “huge regression”.

The new legislative proposal has also sparked widespread suspicions among the public that the authorities are going easy on e-cigarettes because they are eyeing the juicy tax revenues.

We totally agree with the medical sector that e-cigarettes should be completely banned because they are almost as harmful to public health as conventional cigarettes, and that the government’s latest proposal to regulate rather than ban e-cigarettes is, if anything, sheer hypocrisy.

At a meeting of the Legislative Council panel on health services this Tuesday, there was no agreement on whether the government should prohibit the sale of these products.

Those who are against a total ban argued that since Hong Kong is a free market, the government should follow the principle of fairness and allow consumers the freedom to choose.

They also said e-cigarettes shouldn’t be singled out. If the authorities are really determined to safeguard people’s health, they should ban all tobacco products including traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

We feel compelled to take issue with them here. The “principle of fairness” simply doesn’t apply to e-cigarettes because what we are talking about here is a product that can endanger people’s health.

The principle of fairness should take a backseat when it comes to protecting Hong Kong citizens from being harmed by toxic products and safeguarding public health.

The fact that the sale of conventional tobacco products is still legal doesn’t necessarily mean we can turn a blind eye to the influx of other new tobacco products that are just as toxic as traditional cigarettes.

Take automobiles as an example. True, due to historical reasons, Hong Kong has yet to completely ban highly polluting fossil fuel-powered vehicles from our roads.

However, does that mean our government can just sit on the sidelines and continue to allow newer but equally polluting models on the market?

Despite the divisions, the Legco health services panel still passed a non-binding motion urging the government to ban e-cigarettes.

Given the mandate of our legislature, we believe the administration should think twice before letting e-cigarettes slip through the net.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 20

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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