Care needed before rollback of Hong Kong’s re-export ban on vaping products
- Proponents of a relaxation of the ban say there is now a better logistics system to prevent diversion of vaping products into the community. But the government should not backtrack careful consideration for the credibility of its public health credentials
Hong Kong’s ban on the import, sale or manufacture of smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and herbal cigarettes puts public health before commercial profit, jobs and government revenue.
The prohibition includes transshipment via land or sea of such products for re-export to overseas markets. This is to reduce the risk of them being diverted back into Hong Kong, where it remains legal to use vaping gadgets.
The cost to the city as a regional transshipment hub, in loss of outbound business, government revenue and livelihoods, is considerable. But it was also predictable.
These are not unforeseen or extraordinary circumstances. The question is whether they justify a proposed relaxation that would undermine a law enacted with the support of the medical profession and public health experts.
The proposal would relax the ban on re-export via land or sea, and boost government revenue depleted by the effect of Covid measures on receipts from land sales and stamp duty.
Before the ban was imposed last April, Hong Kong was a major hub for the transshipment of vaping products from mainland China which, according to the China Electronics Chamber of Commerce, accounts for 95 per cent of world supply, most of it exported.
Proponents of a relaxation of the ban to permit sea-to-air transshipment through Hong Kong say there is now a better logistics system in place to prevent diversion of vaping products into the community.
A spokesman for the freight forwarding and logistics industry says the ban has shaken the city’s status as a transshipment hub and dealt a blow to people’s livelihoods. Nonetheless, a relaxation would roll back an effective tobacco control regime only months after it was introduced.
The government should not backtrack without careful consideration for the credibility of its public health credentials, especially when it has fought a titanic battle with a respiratory disease pandemic.
The government may face volatile fluctuations in revenue from its narrow tax base. Ultimately, however, the solution lies in diversifying revenue sources to widen the tax base.