HK smokers butt out, while vaping heats up: gov’t study

The number of smokers in Hong Kong has fallen, according to a new government survey, while vaping, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly popular.

Released this week, the statistics from the Census and Statistic Department Thematic Household Survey (THS) showed the number of daily cigarette smokers aged 15 and above has fallen from 10.5 percent of the population to 10 percent.

In raw numbers, the survey, conducted between June and September last year, found there were some 615,000 daily smokers in Hong Kong — 520,000 males and 88,100 females — compared to 641,000 in 2015.

It also revealed that smokers were lighting up less, well slightly — with daily average consumption dropping from 13.1 cigarettes to 12.4 (nice work on resisting that extra seventh of a cigarette, HK smokers!)

As for teenagers aged between 15 and 19, a separate government commissioned study by the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health between November 2016 to June last year also found a drop in smokers.

Vaping, however, was shown to be increasingly popular, according to the THS results, which showed there was 5,700 daily e-cigarette users in 2017 compared to “no significant number” in 2015.

The HKU study, meanwhile, found that about 0.8 percent of secondary school students used electronic cigarettes.

Presenting the findings yesterday, head of Hong Kong’s Tobacco Control Office Lee Pui-man said the drop in cigarette smokers fit long-term trends, which show the percentage of Hongkongers who smoke has consistently fallen in the past 30 years, from about 23.3 of the population in the early 1980s to today’s level.

Crediting the city’s anti-smoking efforts as “effective,” he said the data showed that many of city’s remaining smokers were reluctant to quit.

“Although we have seen a gradual increase in the proportion of smokers who are aware of smoking cessation services in the past decade, the proportion of smokers who have not tried to and have no intention to quit smoking has increased,” he said.

“This is reflected in the increasing difficulties in recruiting smokers to participate in smoking cessation programs,” he added, referring to services such as counselling and nicotine replacement therapy (like patches) available from government-run clinics.

As for e-cigarettes, he said the government was “very concerned” about their growing popularity and said the government planned to “strengthen the monitoring and regulation” of the devices, citing the “potential harm.”

He did not address, however, the potential for e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking, something that has been promoted by Britain’s National Health Service, which notes on its website that vaping is a better alternative to smoking.

“E-cigarettes do not produce tar and carbon monoxide – two of the main toxins in conventional cigarette smoke,” the website notes, under the heading “is it safe.”

“The vapour from e-cigarettes has been found to contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.”

“E-cigarettes are still fairly new and we won’t have a full picture on their safety until they have been in use for many years. However, according to current evidence on e-cigarettes, they carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes.”

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