After proposing regulations several months ago, the government now wants to fully ban electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, which are becoming popular in Hong Kong.
In her second annual policy address delivered on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government will submit a proposed legislation to ban the importation, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes and other new smoking products.
The proposed ban is a departure from the government’s previous policy on e-cigarettes. In June, the administration submitted a proposal to the Legislative Council seeking to regulate e-cigarettes and other new tobacco alternatives in order to protect public health.
A study conducted earlier by Hong Kong Baptist University researchers found that smoke from e-cigarettes contains formaldehyde, a carcinogen, and heavy metals that pose danger to health, contrary to manufacturers’ claims that it is only water vapor.
According to Lam, medical professionals, educators, parents and the public in general have expressed concerns about the adoption of a regulatory approach to control e-cigarettes.
They have pointed out that allowing the sale of e-cigarettes with restrictions will not be adequate to protect public health but will have a very negative impact on children and adolescents in particular.
The chief executive said the public may underestimate the harmful effects of such products and eventually support smoking.
After careful deliberation, Lam said, her administration is proposing a full ban on e-cigarettes to protect the health of citizens, especially children and teenagers.
She said smoking among persons aged 15 and above has significantly dropped from over 20 percent in the 1980s to 10 percent at present after the concerted efforts by the government and other stakeholders.
The government aims to further reduce the rate to 7.8 percent by 2025.
A government source said the proposed full ban is not a sudden move by the government, adding that it aims to prevent people engaged in businesses related to e-cigarettes from expanding into new markets, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The ban will take effect after Legco’s approval of the legislation, which will make it illegal for anyone to enter Hong Kong with e-cigarettes.
The Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Public Health, the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine, the Hong Kong Medical Association and other healthcare organizations, as well as the education sector, welcomed Lam’s decision.
Antonio Kwong Cho-shing, the council’s chairman, said the government should also set a timetable to totally ban smoking in Hong Kong, suggesting that it follow the examples of Finland and Ireland, and come up with a series of measures to achieve the goal.
Meanwhile, Factasia.org, a consumer advocacy and consultancy backed by tobacco firms, opposed the e-cigarette ban, saying it would deprive Hong Kong people of their right to choose.
The organization, which operates throughout the Asia-Pacific region, said many developed countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan and New Zealand, have opted for a partial ban, prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, instead of adopting a total ban.
An e-cigarette dealer in Hong Kong who owns three shops said he may suffer a loss of up to HK$1 million if the total ban is approved, adding that he had increased his inventory earlier this year.
Chan Man-fai, chairman of the Hong Kong Vape Association, said a total ban is tantamount to “chopping off the toes to avoid sand worms”, a Cantonese saying for treating the symptoms but not the cause.
He said the proposal, if passed by Legco, would only push the e-cigarette market to go underground.
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