Hong Kong anti-smoking watchdog calls for ban on electronic cigarettes
Health secretary backs anti-smoking agency's call, saying studies needed before law is set
The government yesterday said it would consider a ban on electronic cigarettes after the city's anti-smoking watchdog called for the "personal vaporisers" to be prohibited.
Hours after the Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) presented its survey results, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the government was "inclined to agree" with the council's request due to some proven health risks.
"There is also a risk that youngsters would pick up smoking [traditional] cigarettes after they begin smoking e-cigarettes, which is why we are inclined to accept Cosh's recommendations," Ko said. He added that detailed studies would be required before they could proceed with legislation.
A University of Hong Kong telephone survey of 2,400 local residents found that only 1.8 per cent of respondents used electronic cigarettes. But the council insisted that a preemptive approach was still needed.
E-cigarettes - "personal vaporisers" used as an alternative to tobacco - can be sold legally in Hong Kong if they do not contain nicotine. Any product with more than 0.1 per cent nicotine is required to be registered with the Health Department.
Professor Daniel Ho Sai-yin, of HKU's department of community medicine, said new findings about harmful ingredients in e-cigarettes kept emerging.
"We cannot start banning [e-cigarettes] only after hundreds of thousands of people have been killed," Ho said. "In the 1980s, Hong Kong managed to ban smokeless tobacco before it became popular, so that's why today we don't see any cases of people with cancer because they chewed such tobacco."
Apart from nicotine, Ho said e-cigarettes had also been found to contain carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde when ingredients were heated at high temperatures.
The council also dismissed as "misleading" claims made by manufacturers that they can help smokers quit traditional cigarettes, and the products were non-addictive or eco-friendly.
Young people were particularly vulnerable as e-cigarettes were usually marketed as the "affordable alternative" to traditional cigarettes, the council said.
The survey - which covered smokers, non-smokers and former smokers - also revealed that non-smokers aged between 15 and 29 were more likely to start using e-cigarettes.
Citing World Health Organisation advice for e-cigarettes to be regulated in a similar way to traditional products, the council said the ban should cover the sale, advertising, promotion, sponsorship, distribution, import and manufacturing.