As one of the most aggressively free-market areas in the world, Hong Kong is well known for its business-friendly environment (despite being a territory of China), and Hong Kong policies tend to set the tone for all of Asia. On June 2, the Hong Kong Legislative Council abandoned a bill that would have banned vaping products, including both e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn devices.
In a press release, the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA), the Committee on Smoking held three public hearings as part of its deliberations on whether to amend the Smoking Ordinance to include a full ban on all vaping devices and e-cigarettes.
The vaping ban was opposed by some on the committee, who cited what are now well-known and widely accepted scientific studies which show that e-cigarettes have lower levels of toxins when compared to combustible cigarettes. The controversial and draconian bill, which did not pass, would have imposed fines of up to HK$50,000 and up to six months in jail for anyone who imports, makes, sells or promotes e-cigarettes.
The availability of vaping and e-cigarettes as a nicotine reduction device and alternative to combustible cigarettes is especially important in Hong Kong, where ten percent of the population are smokers, and a high number of former smokers have switched to smoke-free alternatives. Vaping devices like Pax 3 (read more for review) are now popular among people who are trying to quit smoking. According to Joe Lo, a member of CAPHRA, “As we have been saying all along, nicotine is not the problem, but the smoke, which is responsible for thousands of deaths globally each day. Unlike combustible tobacco, e-cigarettes and HTPs [heat-not-burn tobacco products] do not involve combustion or burning, because they only heat tobacco to a certain degree that is not harmful to humans.”
Lo noted that now that the proposed ban is off the table, smokers will have better access to smoke-free alternatives which are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco. Lo further said that legislation and age restrictions, rather than a full ban which would take the option away from adults, is the way to go, by providing access to adults who wish to use the less-harmful e-cigarette option, while still keeping it out of the hands of youth.
According to CAPHRA, smoke-free nicotine products, including vaping, are part of an overall public health strategy which reduces the risk caused by smoking. Though vaping has its own pros and cons, as well as factors to consider when acquiring one. Questions often asked by the public are ‘how can you choose a quality device?’ and ‘what are the risks of vaping?’ amongst other questions. Learning the extent of the factors in vaping and how to quit smoking using vape products may play an essential part in improving the overall health plan of the country.
The move by Hong Kong may well have repercussions in other Asian countries such as India. Jagannath Sarangapani, director of the Association of Vapers India, said that “India, which has the second-largest population of tobacco users, should also lift the ban on these products and promote access to risk-reduced alternatives to prevent 1 million smoking-related deaths each year. Also in Thailand, Asa Ace Saligupta of ENDS Cigarette Smoke Thailand, suggested that the Kingdom of Thailand (where vaping is banned) should also follow Hong Kong’s lead, saying “Lifting the ban on e-cigarettes, HTPs and the like will provide Thai smokers representing more than 20 percent of our population an opportunity to switch to reduced-risk alternatives.” Saligupta noted that 40 percent of Thai males are at risk of illness from smoking.
The battle may have been won, but vapers still face challenges ahead, and the Hong Kong Department of Health still sees e-cigarettes as an unapproved drug, and Dr. Fung Ying, head of Hong Kong’s Tobacco and Alcohol Control Office, said that he will introduce another bill to ban vapes in the next legislative session. However, despite the high prevalence of smoking in Hong Kong, the Tobacco and Alcohol Control office under Dr. Ying’s guidance is making no attempt at banning cigarettes, which are, according to scientific research, much more hazardous to health than vaping and e-cigarettes. Hong Kong generates large amounts of tax revenues from cigarettes and tobacco products.