Hold tight to your vapes, friends.
Fearing Hong Kong’s impressionable youth may slide down a proverbial slippery slope, the government has proposed tightening regulations for e-cigarettes and other smoking alternatives but has stopped short of suggesting an outright ban.
In a 14-page document released yesterday, the Department of Health’s Food and Health Bureau recommended treating e-cigarettes — also known as vapes — like traditional tobacco products.
This would include banning sales to minors, prohibiting advertising, promotion and sponsorship, requiring health warnings on packaging, banning their use in no-smoking areas, and taxing manufacturers on any tobacco components.
The proposal — which will also cover herbal cigarettes and heat-not-burn devices for tobacco — will be debated at Legco next week.
In formulating its proposal, the department said it relied on information from the World Health Organization (WHO), which expressed concern about e-cigarettes as a “gateway” to smoking.
Exposed to the “behavioural and sensory characteristics of a conventional cigarette” (the department’s description of vaping), the youth just may not be able to help trying to real thing, they claimed.
“The increasing ubiquity of e-cigarettes in the public arena may also renormalise the smoking imagery, increasing acceptance of smoking in general,” said the department, which pointed to studies showing vaping was increasingly popular in the city.
“Once such use has taken root it could be very difficult to introduce meaningful regulation.”
The department cited advice by the WHO, which stated that e-cigarettes are “unlikely to be harmless” though no long term studies have been completed given their relatively recent appearance on the market.
It also pointed to a 2015 Hong Kong Baptist University test of the liquid used in vapes, which detected formaldehyde and heavy metals. That study was called into question by a cardiovascular surgeon who studies e-cigarettes.
Thomas McRae, owner of the Vape Shop in Sai Ying Pun, said that while he welcomed regulation, the government continued to show a bias against vaping and ignored evidence of their success in stopping people smoking.
“It’s good they’re not banning it, but I think they clearly haven’t done their full research,” he told Coconuts HK, pointing to research by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service which found vaping carries a “fraction of the risk” of smoking.
He also disputed the claim that e-cigarettes acted as a “gateway” to smoking.
“We get on an average about 1,500 customers a month, and I’ve been doing this for about three years now, and I’ve never met one person who starts vaping and then picks up smoking.”
On the proposed regulations, he said his business already followed most, including not selling to minors.
“Regulation is good, as long as it’s not taxed too much making it unaffordable for everyone, it keeps out all the startups who aren’t doing things properly,” he said.