Hong Kong will not follow the US in banning the sale of ephedra, the health department said yesterday. Ephedra, also known as ma huang in Chinese, is an amphetamine-like compound with powerful stimulatory effects on the heart and nervous system. Chinese and western medical practitioners in Hong Kong use the herbal supplement to cure respiratory illnesses from common colds to asthma. A Department of Health spokesman said Hong Kong had no plans to follow the US Food and Drug Administration's ban on its manufacture and sale because drugs with ephedra were regulated, but it stood by the advice that users should follow doctors' instructions. Scarlett Pong Oi-lan, former president of the Practising Pharmacists Association of Hong Kong, said it was commonly used to replace fenfluranmine - a prohibited drug that could cause heart damage - in slimming products. 'Ephedra can be used for curing mild asthma and for decongestion. It was promoted as a natural herbal substance in slimming products,' she said. Lo Kin-fai, deputy director of the Hong Kong Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said: 'Patients with high blood pressure or heart disease should definitely avoid using it.'