Touts around Tsim Sha Tsui often act as a front for illegal drug-pushing, a South China Morning Post investigation has found.
The touts, who ostensibly hawk tailored suits in the area, have long posed a nuisance to tourists and residents around Nathan Road and Chungking Mansions. But some are also blatant about offering drugs, and appear to target white men.
"The drugs are really offered to you only if you are Western," said Michael Billet, a business development manager who has worked in Tsim Sha Tsui for three years. "I guess tourists are the biggest market for these touts.
"Most often it's hash that they offer. But nine times out of 10, that's quickly followed up with an offer for cocaine or ketamine."
An investigation corroborated Billet's assertion. In a brief walk in and around Chungking Mansions this week, a Western-looking Post reporter was offered drugs five times.
On Nathan Road, one tout openly offered an array of drugs after the reporter said he was not interested in tailored clothes. In an alleyway next to Chungking Mansions, another brazenly shouted "hash?". In Chungking Mansions, yet another offered "high quality" cocaine at HK$2,500 for 2g. Samples were readily available, he claimed.
"I have no idea why this is tolerated," Billet said. "It's all very blatant And it's getting worse by the day."
In 2009, a Western Australian Symphony Orchestra musician died in the area after snorting what he believed was cocaine. A fellow orchestra member was left critically ill after taking the same substance. He later recovered.
Toxicology reports showed the drug - obtained from a doorman at a venue near Nathan Road - was a cocktail of cocaine, ketamine and traces of other opiates. Another long-term expatriate resident said she had seen the problem of touts in Tsim Sha Tsui grow exponentially over the years, but that she had never been offered drugs.
"I avoid the area, which is a shame because there are places I like to go to there," said the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous. "I tend to advise visitors to avoid the area too."
A senior police official acknowledged that the area faced a number of problems, including "underage drinking, drugs and ethnic involvement in crime".
But police were not aware of any increase in drug-pushing activities among touts in the area, said Paul Grove, the Tsim Sha Tsui police divisional commander. "Any specific information from any source is more than welcome for us to do our job more effectively," he said.
The Tourism Board said it had not received any complaints about touts selling drugs in the area, but advised tourists "not to buy from street touts".
The city has seen a dramatic increase in cocaine and ketamine seizures in recent years.
Last year, customs seized 603kg of cocaine - a 1,900 per cent increase from the 30kg seized in 2011. Just a fortnight ago, a Hong Kong man was caught in Beijing smuggling 24.6kg of cocaine to Hong Kong. A week earlier, 60kg of cocaine was seized from two separate passengers arriving at Chek Lap Kok airport.
According to Caritas care worker Debby Leung, the drug had risen in popularity in Hong Kong because of falling prices and greater ease of access.