Controls sought for nicotine-free e-cigarettes
Doctors are calling for regulation of electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine, saying they can lure the young to take up the real thing.
The nicotine-free devices, through which users inhale flavoured water vapour, have been available overseas for some time and were introduced to Hong Kong last month by local company Shortcut.
The company says about 60 packs - marketed as 'Mild Cigarette' - are sold each day, and about 30 per cent of its customers are non-smokers.
'What you are blowing is just water vapour with fragrance. It will not get you addicted,' Shortcut marketing manager Alex Mok Ho-chun said.
'We are quite surprised that it has attracted non-smokers, especially the girls. But apparently they feel that it is fun.'
Electronic cigarettes containing nicotine come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health because they are classified as medication, but those without nicotine do not need to be registered and can be sold freely.
University of Hong Kong school of nursing director Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, who has headed programmes to help young people quit smoking, said the Shortcut product was 'a bad influence and a gimmick' that could lead young people to take up smoking. 'This is certainly a loophole. Even though the product looks non-toxic, it may attract young people to try real cigarettes,' she said.
The government should consider monitoring these products, and even if that was not possible, it should allocate more resources to public education, she said. 'We should let young people know that smoking is no longer a socially acceptable behaviour.'
University of Hong Kong school of public health assistant professor Dr Daniel Ho Sai-yin said there was no good evidence that e-cigarettes were safe to use. Also, nicotine had been detected in some products that claimed to be nicotine-free.
'The government should regulate these products, otherwise these products may undermine current tobacco control efforts,' he said.
Mok said that after tobacco tax was increased by 41.5 per cent in February, smoking had become so expensive that some smokers had to cut down on their habit. 'Our product can make them feel like they are smoking and it does not give off a bad odour as real cigarettes do,' he said.
E-cigarettes cost HK$200 a pack. There are 10 flavours, including chocolate, strawberry and tobacco. Customers get a mouthpiece and 11 flavoured cartridges that Shortcut says can provide about 1,000 puffs.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: 'Products that do not contain nicotine are not under the purview of the department.'
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices which produce water vapour rather than cigarette smoke
Inside an e-cigarette
When a user inhales, a sensor detects air flow and starts the heating process which creates vapour to be inhaled
Contains propylene glycol, water, any flavourings and optional levels of nicotine
LED light flashes when user inhales, simulating the burn of a real cigarette
Provides the heat to create the vapour
A small hole in the end of the inhaler replaces the usual cigarette filter
SOURCES: US FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, NJOY